RIVERSIDE – A new wave of varsity players took the field this summer for Riverside Brookfield baseball and the future appears bright.
The incoming junior class went 25-3, including 17-0 in the Metro Suburban Conference, on the sophomore team in the spring and got their first taste of varsity level baseball this summer. The Bulldogs, led by assistant varsity coach Mark Ruge, played 40 games this summer with doubleheaders Monday through Thursday to allow for travel tournaments on weekends.
Over 20 players suited up for RB this summer in a league featuring other strong area programs like Oak Park-River Forest, Fenwick and Leyden. Ruge, along with varsity head coach Dallas Till and Ruge's son, Joe, teamed up to provide coaching during the summer.
"We have a fine line to cross," Mark Ruge said. "Coach Till, Joe and myself need to evaluate talent while being competitive, which is a real challenge, as we challenge players to step out of their comfort zone [while still] attempting to maintain a high level of play."
Joe Ruge is fresh off of graduating from St. Francis in Joliet, where he was a standout player for four years. The RB grad is now giving back by contributing to the coaching staff. He is expected to help out with the varsity team when possible during the spring.
"He brings such a different perspective on the game," Mark Ruge said. "It's always nice to have an extra pair of eyes. We try to have him in the varsity dugout as much as possible. Sometimes he talks to Dallas more than me about baseball."
As for RB's current players, senior Connor Berek impressed as a two-way player in the summer. Berek emerged as the team's No. 2 starter in the spring and is in line to take over as staff ace next year. Berek is working on adding a change-up to his arsenal.
In addition, fellow varsity returner Nick Fucinato and junior newcomers Kenny Ngo, Enrique Trujillo and Richie Gentile all contributed to the staff. Mark Ruge got to see a number of different pitchers while spreading out the workload.
"We have to be very careful with our pitching staff as this is a ton of innings to cover," he said. "You're not going to get a sore arm from me though."
Fucinato, Gentile, Ngo and senior Jack Surprenant impressed at the plate. Ruge noted sophomore Kyle Fitzgerald's fielding ability as an infielder. Fitzgerald played up with the sophomore team as a freshman in the spring.
"Kyle is a baseball player, plain and simple," Ruge said. "Sky is the limit for this kid."
With all the games and no home field, RB played all summer games on the road, so the summer could have easily become pretty crowded for some of the players. Ruge still encouraged the players to play travel ball whenever possible to push themselves. RB was also flexible with football players like Brian Kulaga and Adolfo Linares that have other summer commitments.
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