High School: Baseball

Local prospects taken in MLB Draft

June, 5, 2012
A number of high school and college players from Illinois were selected during the second day of the MLB draft on Tuesday.

Here’s a rundown of the selections:

High school players

  • Galesburg catcher Chad Johnson, Kansas City Royals, fifth round (163rd overall)
  • Niles West shortstop Kevin Ross, Pittsburgh Pirates, eighth round (256th overall)
  • Rockford Boylan first baseman Zach Stoner, Chicago White Sox, 12th round (381st overall)
  • Mundelein left-handed pitcher Ryan Borucki, Toronto Blue Jays, 15th round (475th overall)

    College players

  • Southern Illinois senior first baseman Christopher Serritella, Philadelphia Phillies, fourth round (158th overall)
  • Bradley senior left-handed pitcher Joseph Bircher, Houston Astros, 10th round (309th overall)
  • Illinois junior right-handed pitcher Matthew Milroy, Miami Marlins, 11th round (347th overall)
  • John A. Logan junior college left-handed pitcher Derek Thompson, Chicago White Sox, 13th round (411th overall)

  • Local prospects await draft fate

    June, 3, 2012
    PM CT
    The Chicago area may not see one of its prep baseball players selected as quickly in the upcoming MLB draft as it has in the past few years, but there are still a handful of local prospects who could hear their names called this week.

    A year ago, Charlie Tilson, a New Trier center fielder, was the area’s highest pick when he was taken No. 79th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals. Two years ago, Mike Foltynewicz, a Minooka right-handed pitcher, was selected No. 18 overall by the Houston Astros.
    Here’s a look at this year’s top area prospects:

    1) Kevin Ross, Niles West, shortstop, 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, signed with Michigan

    Scout’s take: He was the best hitter at the Area Code Games. He can bat for average and has power potential. He’ll likely be moved to third base. He could go somewhere between the third and fifth round.

    2) Ryan Borucki, Mundelein, left-handed pitcher, 6-4, 180 pounds, Iowa

    Scout’s take: He’s a lefty who has life to his fastball and has a good breaking ball.

    3) Alex Young, Carmel, left-handed pitcher, 6-3, 190 pounds, Texas Christian

    Scout’s take: He’s a projectable lefty with a good fastball and good breaking ball.

    4) Kyle Funkhouser, Oak Forest, right-handed pitcher, 6-3, 180 pounds, Louisville

    Scout’s take: He’s a projectable righty. He’s hit 92 mph and can pitch at 89.

    5) Brett Lilek, Marian Catholic, left-handed pitcher, 6-4, 180 pounds, signed with Arizona State

    Scout’s take: He has an abundance of ability, but he has yet to achieve his potential.


    New Trier athletics dominate in 2010-11

    June, 15, 2011
    AM CT

    The 2010-2011 high school sports year was one to remember for a number of programs.

    Maine South’s football team and Bolingbrook’s girls basketball team won their third consecutive state championships. Montini’s football team and girls basketball team captured their second consecutive titles. Wheaton Warrenville South’s football team capped off an undefeated season with another state title. Simeon’s boys basketball team also continued its reign.

    [+] EnlargeNew Trier tennis
    VIPIS.comNew Trier's tennis team won the school one of its five state titles this year.

    But of any of school, no one had the 2010-2011 year New Trier had. The Trevians won five team state championships and four individual state titles to go along with a number of regional and sectional championships.

    Here’s a rundown of what New Trier’s teams accomplished this year:

    • The boys tennis team won its second consecutive state championship. Robert Stineman repeated as the state singles champion. Jared Hiltzik finished second in singles, and two doubles teams finished in the top five in the state.

    • The boys lacrosse team won its seventh consecutive state title. Senior Chad Sawyer became the school’s all-time leading goal scorer this season.

    • The girls swimming team won the state championship. Samantha James won the state title in the 100-yard freestyle, and the 400-yard freestyle relay team also won a state title.

    • The boys swimming team won the state championship. Max Grodecki won the 100-yard freestyle title, and its 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relay teams also won state crowns.

    • The girls golf team won the Class 3A state championship, and Elizabeth Szokol and Kristin Wright finished fifth and sixth in the state.

    • The boys golf team took second place in state in Class 3A.

    • Senior Mari Georgiadis went 52-0 this season and won the badminton state championship. The Trevians finished third overall as a team.

    • The girls tennis team finished third in the state. It had two doubles teams finish in the top six.

    • The softball team finished fourth at state in Class 4A.

    • The girls cross country team finished sixth at state in Class 3A.

    • The boys cross country team finished in seventh at state in Class 3A.

    • The boys volleyball team reached the state quarterfinals.

    • The girls soccer team won a regional championship.

    • The girls volleyball team won a regional championship.

    • The girls lacrosse team won a regional championship.

    • Senior centerfielder Charlie Tilson was selected in the second round of the MLB draft.

    Other notable schools in 2010-2011

    Lyons: baseball -- 4A state champions; girls volleyball – 3A state champions; boys soccer – regional champions; girls soccer – regional champions; boys basketball – regional champions; boys cross country – ninth place in 3A; football – reached state quarterfinals in 8A; boys water polo – reached state quarterfinals; girls golf – 10th place in 3A.

    Sandburg: badminton – state champions; boys volleyball – state champions; baseball – regional champions; softball – sectional champions; competitive cheerleading – fourth place in state; boys cross country – 10th place in 3A and individual state champion Lukas Verzbicas; boys bowling – 10th place in state; wrestling – third place in 3A; boys water polo – fourth place in state; baseball – regional champions; football – reached the second round in 8A.

    Naperville North: girls soccer – 3A state runner-up; boys soccer – sectional champions; boys volleyball – state runner-up; girls swimming – ninth place in 3A; boys swimming – ninth place in 3A; boys gymnastics – fourth place in state; boys golf – third place in 3A; football – reached state quarterfinals in 8A.

    Loyola: girls lacrosse – state champions; boys lacrosse – state runner-up; girls swimming-- second place in 3A; boys swimming – fourth place in 3A; girls golf – fifth place in 3A; football – reached state semifinals in 8A; baseball – regional champion; boys golf – eighth place in 3A; girls soccer – sectional champions.

    Palatine: girls cross country – second place in 3A; boys cross country – fourth place in 3A; softball – regional champions; boys cross country – fourth place in 3A; badminton – eighth place in state; baseball – regional champions; boys gymnastics – fifth place in state; football – reached state quarterfinals in 8A.

    Montini: girls basketball - 3A state champions; football - 5A state champions; wrestling – 2A state champions.

    Lake Zurich: football – 7A state runner-up; competitive cheerleading – state champions; boys cross country – second place in 3A; boys bowling – third place in state; softball – sectional champions.

    Kaneland, Lyons win IHSA titles

    June, 12, 2011
    AM CT

    JOLIET, Ill. -- Kaneland’s focus was locked into winning its first baseball regional title when the playoffs began last month.

    The Knights thought whatever that came after a regional title would be an added bonus.

    [+] EnlargeState baseball
    Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comKaneland won 13 consecutive games en route to the state title.

    That bonus turned out to be the Class 3A state championship Saturday when Kaneland defeated Oak Forest 11-4 at Silver Cross Stadium in Joliet.

    After losing six games during a seven-game stretch in early May, Kaneland flipped the switch in the season’s final month. The Knights won their last 13 games, capped off by Saturday’s victory, and surprised the Class 3A field by capturing their first state baseball title.

    “In the regional, we were pretty nervous because we hadn’t won a regional before,” Kaneland senior second baseman Brian Dixon said. “After that, we were just like, ‘Let’s go up from there.’ It feels great to kind of be that underdog and go in here in with nothing to lose, and everyone else has something to lose.

    “I don’t even know how to take this in right now. My last game as a senior at Kaneland, winning state, it’s the best feeling ever. I couldn’t ask anything better right now.”

    Dixon lived the perfect dream ending to his high school career. Although he had his struggles at the plate during the season, hitting just .215, and was slotted in the eighth spot in Kaneland’s order on Saturday, he emerged as the Knights’ offensive hero against Oak Forest.

    Dixon went 3-for-4 with one run and four RBIs. He drove in his first run with a single to left field in the fourth inning to put Kaneland ahead 3-2. He added another RBI with a single to right field in the Kaneland’s six-run fifth inning. Finally, he closed out his day with a two-run double in the sixth inning.

    “I’m happiest for Brian Dixon, great game, great way to end his senior year,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. “He’s wanted to contribute so much. He’s been such a great defensive player for us, and finally he busted open the last game of the year and did a wonderful job getting all those runs in for us and putting the ball in play.”

    Kaneland’s entire lineup found its groove at the plate on Saturday. Eight different hitters had at least one hit, and four of them had multiple hits. Joe Camiliere contributed three hits and three runs. Bobby Thorson went 2 for 3 with a run and two RBIs. Jake Razo, the No. 7 hitter, was 2 for 3 with one run and two RBIs.

    “Most pitchers think of the bottom of the order that we’re not good hitters or anything,” Razo said. “Me and Brian go in there, we just think we’re the better players on the field than the pitcher, and that’s how we played today.”

    Oak Forest’s offense didn’t lack hits. It just couldn’t produce timely ones. The Bengals put together 10 hits and also had two players reach base after being hit by a pitcher, but only had three runs to show for it.

    Oak Forest was led by John Zubek (3 for 4, run), Brain Richard (2 for 3), Bobby Sheppard (2 for 4, run) and Jason Hine (1 for 3, two RBIs).

    Illinois all-time home run king Tim Barry went 1 for 4 with a RBI. He finished with 12 home runs for the season and 53 for his career at Oak Forest.

    Kaneland pitcher Drew Peters (5-1) picked up the win after going four innings, allowing six hits and two earned runs. Kyle Davidson pitched the final three innings for the Knights and allowed four hits and one run.

    Lyons tops Providence in 4A

    Lyons defeated Providence 8-3 in the Class 4A title game. The Lions (37-4) scored three runs in the first inning and two more in the third to put away Providence (37-4).

    Lyons was led by Steve Heilenbach (3 for 4, two runs), Spencer Mahoney (2 for 2, two runs), Brian Rodemoyer (2 for 2, two runs, one RBI) and Connor Cuff (1 for 3, four RBIs).

    Cuff also picked up the win, improving to 11-0. He pitched seven innings and allowed five hits and three runs.

    Providence’s Sam Travis was 2 for 2 with a double, home run, one run and two RBIs.

    New Trier's Tilson excited to join Cards

    June, 7, 2011
    PM CT
    New Trier senior centerfielder Charlie Tilson was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round as the 79th overall pick of the MLB draft on Tuesday.

    Tilson wasn't displeased to be taken by the Cardinals, despite his proximity to Wrigley Field. While the Chicago White Sox have always been his No. 1 team, the Cardinals haven't trailed far behind.

    "I've worn red to Cubs games before," Tilson said, laughing. "The Cardinals are a wonderful organization. I'm just honored to be drafted. It's a fortunate thing. It's exciting to see your name called in the MLB draft."

    Tilson was expected to be selected in the first few rounds. Although he watched the draft on Monday, he wasn't disappointed not to be taken in the first 60 picks.

    "To be honest, this is kind of what we expected," Tilson said. "You never know. I was pretty optimistic about how today would go."

    Tilson was unsure Tuesday whether he'd end up signing with the Cardinals or play at the University of Illinois next season. Prior to the draft, he said he had hoped for a signing bonus in the seven-figure vicinity. He has until Aug. 15 to sign with the Cardinals.

    "To be honest, it's too early to tell," Tilson said. "Right now, we'll see where it goes. I'm fortunate to have two great options. I'm excited for either one.

    "There certainly is a lot more to come. I obviously would like to get it done, get it out of the away, but for a decision like this you have to take into account all things. For today, I couldn't be happier."

    Tilson, who throws and hits left-handed, had a .406 average, scored 41 runs and stole 28 bases during his senior season for the Trevians. He is thought to be a potential leadoff hitter at the major league level.
    New Trier centerfielder Charlie Tilson and Downers Grove South pitcher Nick Burdi highlight this year’s class of major league baseball prospects from Illinois, but there are plenty of other high school and college players statewide who will be selected in this week’s draft.

    “Outside of Charlie and Nick, it’s tough to tell who will go high,” one MLB scout said. “It’s tough to gauge where these guys are going. It only takes one of these teams to like the guy more than another, and he’s off the board.”

    Here’s a look at the state’s top high school and college prospects, heading into the draft, which starts Monday night:

  • Charlie Tilson, New Trier HS, CF: Tilson, who has signed with Illinois, hit for a .406 average, scored 41 runs and stole 28 bases this season. He put himself on the national map at last summer’s Area Code Games. “Tilson is considered a five-tool player with a great chance to stick in center field and hit some,” ESPN MLB draft analyst Jason Churchill said. “He's not a big power bat, but despite his lack of size generates good bat speed. If he learns to create some loft in his swing, he could max out for average power (14-16 home runs). He runs well and plays hard and his arm strength is above average.” Projected: First-second round

  • Nick Burdi, Downers Grove South HS, RHP: Burdi, who has signed with Louisville, has a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and has a devastating breaking ball. He was one of the state’s top pitchers this season and helped Downers Grove South to the Neuqua Valley Sectional championship game. “What’s impressive about him is the power to the fastball and the breaking ball,” an MLB scout said. “I envision him as a back of a bullpen guy, a closer. Throw out a name like Goose Gossage. He’s loose. His fastball is heavy.” Projected: Second-third round

  • Willie Argo, Illinois, OF: Argo leads the Illini with 46 runs and 25 stolen bases. He has an OBP of .382. “He’s a speed guy,” a MLB scout said. Projected: Second day of draft

  • Adam Davis, Illinois, C: Davis is hitting .295 with 14 doubles, five home runs and 33 RBIs. He’s thrown out 17 of 32 runners. Projected: Second day

  • Jerad Grundy, Heartland CC (Johnsburg HS), LHP: Projected to be drafted on the second day.

  • Justin Hancock, Lincoln Trail CC, RHP: Projected to be drafted on the second day.

  • Joe Perricone, Hersey HS, RHP: Perricone is a Coastal Carolina recruit. “He’s a plus-athlete,” a MLB scout said. “He’s ranged anywhere from 81-91 with a pretty good breaking ball. He’s a very interesting guy in terms of his athleticism.” Projected: Second or third day

  • Jeff Schalk, Wheaton North HS, 1B: A UAB recruit, Schalk is a projected second or third day pick.

  • Sam Travis, Providence HS, 3B: Travis homered in Providence’s win over Downers Grove South in the Neuqua Valley sectional championship on Saturday. He’s hitting .504 with 15 home runs and 69 RBIs. He is signed with Indiana. Projected: Second or third day

  • Nick Hibbing, Lakes, RHP: An Iowa recruit, Hibbing is a projected second or third day pick.

  • Dontrell Rush, Harlan, OF: A John A. Logan Junior College recruit, Rush is a projected second or third day pick.

  • Alex Hermeling, Glenbrook North, RHP: He has signed with Louisiana-Monroe and is a projected second or third day pick.

  • Ryan Court, Illinois State (Dundee-Crown HS), 3B: Court hit .323 with 15 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 35 RBIs for the Redbirds this season. Projected: Second or third day

  • Corey Maines, Illinois State, RHP: Maines was 9-4 with a 2.87 ERA, 110 strikeouts and 34 walks in 94 innings this season. Projected: Second or third day

  • Zach Borenstein, Eastern Illinois (Buffalo Grove HS), OF/3B: Borenstein hit .349 with 13 doubles, three triples, seven home runs, 29 RBIs and 38 runs this season. Projected: Second or third day

  • Spencer Patton, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, RHP: Projected as a second or third day pick.

  • Jake Junis, Rock Falls, RHP: A North Carolina State recruit, Junis is projected as a second- or third-day pick.

  • Brandon Magallones, Providence HS, RHP: A Northwestern recruit, Magallones is a projected second- or third-day pick.

  • Tyler Farrell, Galesburg HS, RHP: Signed with Western Illinois, Farrell is a projected second- or third-day pick.

  • Garrett Schlect, Waterloo HS, OF: Signed with Middle Tennessee State, Schlect is a projected second- or third-day pick.

  • Jerad Eickhoff, Olney Central CC, RHP: A projected second- or third-day pick.

  • Chris Burgess, Black Hawk JC, RHP: A projected second- or third-day pick.
  • New Trier's Tilson ponders future

    June, 4, 2011
    PM CT

    WINNETKA, Ill. -- New Trier’s Charlie Tilson has a figure -- actually seven of them -- that will decide whether he will be playing baseball professionally or for Illinois a year from now.

    [+] EnlargeTilson Charlie
    Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comCharlie Tilson hit over .400 this season at New Trier.
    Tilson, a 6-foot, 185-pound speedy centerfielder and leadoff hitter, and his family have decided for him to take the leap into professional baseball and bypass college that an organization will have to select him in the early rounds of the MLB draft, which begins on Monday, and offer him somewhere in the vicinity of a seven-figure signing bonus.

    “I’ve come out with a number that it’s going to take for me to go,” said Tilson, who is also the ESPNChicago.com/Muscle Milk Prep Athlete of the Week. “I don’t know if I’ll get it. My education is important to me. I may end up out-pricing myself.

    “I’m excited. If it were to work out, it would be a great scenario. My No. 1 goal is to play professional baseball, but at the same time I want to get a great education and Illinois is a great school, and they’ve had a great season.”

    Tilson is considered to be a borderline first-round pick. He’s No. 29 in ESPN’s top 100 draft rankings. If he isn’t taken in the first round on Monday, he’s expected to go early on Tuesday.

    “There is an outside shot that Tilson sneaks into the bottom few picks of the first round to a team such as Tampa Bay who has multiple selections, but otherwise fits nicely in the sandwich round based on talent alone,” ESPN MLB draft analyst Jason Churchill said. “He's committed to the University of Illinois, but is considered signable which should keep him in the top two rounds.”

    One MLB scout thought Tilson’s signing bonus request would certainly be a topic of conversation when teams are deciding to draft him.

    “Potentially, yes, he could get seven figures, but potentially it’s also the thing that stops him from going somewhere,” the scout said. “It puts him in limbo.”

    There may be some doubts whether a team can sign Tilson, but there isn’t any over his ability. After stealing seven bases and being the only player to hit a home run at last summer’s Area Code Games in California, Tilson has been on everybody’s radar. Ever since then, scouts have been out in droves to New Trier’s baseball games to see Tilson play.

    “He’s a special player,” New Trier coach Mike Napoleon said. “We knew that. We didn’t bring him up as a sophomore for no reason. Everyone locally knew him, everyone in the state of Illinois. In that same sense, it just exploded in the Area Code Games. When you’re the only guy to hit a home run, steal a few bases and throw a couple guys out, that’s national news.”

    Tilson, who throws and hits left-handed, continued to impress scouts with his speed, defense and hitting during his senior season. Tilson had a .406 average, scored 41 runs and stole 28 bases through May 31.

    “He has a unique offensive set of tools,” one American League scout said. “He’s a plus-runner. He has leadoff type of ability. He can be a table setter.”

    If Tilson and a team can’t agree on a number, Illinois coach Dan Hartleb will gladly take him. Other schools tried to sway Tilson from Illinois following his performance at the Area Code Games, but he has remained loyal.

    Hartleb, whose team is playing in the NCAA tournament this week, has kept in touch with Tilson throughout the draft process, but hasn’t put any pressure on him. Hartleb said he wants Tilson to do what’s best for his career.

    “It’s not going to be an easy decision either way they go,” Hartleb said. “They do have some very good options whether it’s the University of Illinois or with the professional side. We hope we can get him to the University of Illinois. He’ll continue to fill a void and help us move forward in the leadoff spot. We’ll have to see how it all unfolds.”

    Tilson had hoped to be playing in a super-sectional game during the draft on Monday, but New Trier was knocked out of the state playoffs in the sectional semifinals. Instead, Tilson will watch the draft with his family at his home.

    “I’m not going to make too big of a deal out of it because you never know what happens,” Tilson said. “I don’t want to build it up. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to be nervous. I don’t know what to expect. I thought I had a pretty good season. It’s one of those things we’ll just see how it goes.”

    Hickman tries to forge new Simeon legacy

    May, 25, 2011
    PM CT
    CHICAGO -- Simeon’s football coaches have attempted to recruit junior Blake Hickman countless times.

    They see quarterback potential in Hickman, who is 6 foot 4 and 210 pounds with a strong right arm and athleticism.

    But Hickman’s dream is different.

    [+] EnlargeBlake Hickman
    Scott Powers for ESPNChicago.comSimeon catcher Blake Hickman accepted a baseball scholarship from Iowa.
    “I keep turning them down,” Hickman said. “Everybody loves basketball and football. I wanted to be different. Baseball, that was my first love.”

    Hickman, the ESPNChicago.com Muscle Milk Player of the Week. has passed up on the lure of playing in the Simeon footsteps of Derrick Rose in basketball and Martez Wilson in football and has attempted to create his own legacy in the Wolverines’ baseball program.

    “I just want people to know it’s not just basketball and football that will get you places,” Hickman said. “Baseball can get you there. Baseball is an awesome sport."

    Already, Hickman can be deemed a success in the Chicago White Sox’s Amateur City Elite (ACE) program. The program was designed to promote baseball within inner-city communities and give African-American players an opportunity to play and train at a high level.

    Hickman, who entered the program as an eighth grader, has developed into one of the country’s premier catchers and recently accepted a scholarship offer from Iowa.

    “It’s a program that develops their baseball skills, teaches them to go about the game in the right away and, more importantly, we harp on the academics,” said White Sox crosschecking scout Nathan Durst, who is involved with the program. “We raise their level of play and give them the type of instruction and development suburban kids are able to get and other places like that.

    “I’m hoping Blake is the first generation of our players. I always envisioned Blake would be the first one to achieve this. I thought it was going to be a process. My feeling was if we develop players academically and athletically, give them proper coaching and instructions and run them in front of enough people, coaches will have interest in our players. If they want to win, they’ll recruit players no matter where they’re from.”

    Hickman is the type of player the ACE program and Public League teams normally lose to other sports. Durst has found Chicago’s Little League systems are full of players with size and skill, but they often stop playing baseball when they enter high school.

    “With the ACE program when they get to be 13 or 14, they’re going to get peeled off by other sports, especially basketball and football,” Durst said. “I don’t want kids to give up sports. I want them to play more sports. You might be Simeon’s 12th man on the basketball team, but you’re 6-5 with a loose arm and maybe a No. 1 pitcher.

    “I imagine basketball and football would love to have Blake. He could wing a football with no problem. Blake is the type of player we’re trying to get at. That first fall team I had five years ago beside Blake being 6-1, the rest of the team was 5-6 to 6-foot. That tells me a lot of the better athletes had been peeled off for other sports. We have four guys now 6-4 or taller.”

    Hickman and especially his defensive game caught the eye of Iowa and other schools last summer. At some of the nation’s biggest showcase events, Hickman displayed a strong arm -- he can throw from home plate to second base in 1.8-1.9 seconds -- and an ability to maneuver quickly around the plate despite his size.

    Whether he has pro potential out of high school will depend on his summer. Scouts will want to see him hit better, according to Durst.

    “He’s got power potential,” Durst said. “He has good bat speed. We project he’s someone who has extra-base power and can produce in the middle of the lineup. The jury is still out on his bat. It’s why this summer is so crucial on the professional level when he goes back to the Tournament of Stars and the Area Code Games.

    “I think there are scouts that have definite interest. To what degree? I don’t know.”

    Hickman is out to turn heads this summer and be the Simeon baseball player others can aspire to be.

    “Last summer, I could have proved myself better,” Hickman said. “I didn’t have a great summer last year. I’m going to prove myself this summer.

    “My coaches at the ACE program and Simeon all stand behind. They all want to see me have success, and that rubs off on me and helps me want to be a role model to other kids.”

    ELGIN, Ill. -- Wearing his Wilson glove on his left hand, Westminster Christian junior pitcher Ryan Perez stepped on the mound on a recent Saturday and began his practice throws before the fifth inning.

    After a couple of warm-up pitches, one of the opposing fans noticed something different in Perez from the previous inning.

    “He’s throwing right-handed,” the fan remarked. “He was left-handed last inning.”

    The fan’s eyes weren’t deceiving him, and Perez doesn’t have a twin. Perez is a right-handed pitcher, and he’s a left-handed pitcher. In other words, he’s an ambidextrous pitcher, which is also known as a switch pitcher.

    “To them, it’s so weird,” said Perez, who wears a Rawlings glove when he pitches left-handed. “To me, it’s natural.”

    [+] EnlargePerez
    Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comWestminster Christian's Ryan Perez can fire a pitch home to his catcher with either arm.
    In the game of baseball, it’s considered extraordinary. Greg Harris is the only pitcher to throw both ways in a major league game in the modern era. He threw one inning -- right-handed to two hitters and left-handed to two others -- in 1995 for the Montreal Expos. Currently, Pat Venditte, who is in the New York Yankees farm system, is attempting to become the first consistent ambidextrous pitcher to reach the majors.

    Following closely behind could be the 17-year-old Perez, who is the ESPNChicago.com/Muscle Milk Prep Player of the Week.

    Trained by his father, Juan Perez, to use both arms since he was toddler, Perez is just as comfortable throwing with his natural right hand as he is with his left. He can throw a fastball, changeup, cutter and curveball with both arms. His cutter and changeup are more effective as a right-hander, and his curveball is better as a left-hander. He’s been clocked at 90 mph right-handed and at 87 mph left-handed.

    Coming from a private school of 350 students in Chicago’s suburbs, the 6-foot, 185-pound Perez’s feats have been slow to garner national attention. He drew some press last season while using both his arms to help Westminster Christian to a Class 1A state title. He also opened some eyes in national tournaments over the summer.

    The word has spread further, including to pro scouts, as his velocity has increased this season.

    “If you got to win one game, I’m going to pick him,” one American League scout said. “He can really pitch. He’s a crafty, crafty guy. It’s not like he’s just hitting 82. I’ve seen him in a tryout camp where he was 87-88 from the left and around 91-92 from the right. That’s legit velocity.

    “On his sheer ability of throwing strikes and commanding the strike zone, I definitely think teams will take a look at him. I think people will definitely have interest in him.”

    Major League Baseball was Juan Perez’s goal with Ryan from the onset. He had already had three sons, and none of them were left-handed. He was hoping Ryan would be the exception, but he also proved to have a natural tendency to use his right hand.

    Instead of accepting another right-handed pitcher in his family, Juan decided he was going to make Ryan both, increasing his odds of a major league future.

    “In the back of my mind, I was thinking this thing hasn’t been done before,” said Juan, who is also Westminster Christian’s pitching coach.

    Juan’s plan began with getting Ryan to use both hands. When Ryan was three years old, Juan had him take turns with each arm tossing rocks into a pond.

    “A little three year old, he’ll do whatever looks fun doing,” Juan said. “I’d pick up a rock and throw it. I’d put a rock into his left hand and go through the motion. He learned how to let go. At that age, it’s more about brain memory. When they’re young, you can influence him.”

    Ryan’s first memory of throwing with both hands is when he was five or six, and it took a few years after that before he realized his playing style wasn’t the same as his peers.

    To get where Ryan is now with his velocity, accuracy, mechanics and fielding ability has taken thousands of hours of training over the last 14 years. He’d field a bucket of 50 groundballs as a left-hander and then as a right-hander. Then he would catch 50 fly balls both ways. He’d pitch three buckets with both arms. For a while, they even had him hitting both ways; he now just bats from the right side.

    “When I was young, practice would be twice as long as the other kids,” Ryan said. “When I was a child, I liked it. There’s some points where it’s started to get tougher, but I’ve worked through it. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s paid off. It’s still fun.”

    Juan stressed what his son is achieving has been done through training. He believes anyone is capable of the same if they put enough time into it.

    “A lot of people say he’s gifted,” Juan said. “It has nothing to do with gifts. You work on something, and you become talented at it. If a kid became ambidextrous and he’s just OK on both sides, it’s the teaching. The roots are the training of the kid. I’ve often thought about writing a book. It’s worked. There’s no doubt about it.”

    Perez’s numbers reflect his dominance. He has a 9-1 record with a 1.56 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 63 innings this season.

    Because Perez also plays shortstop and third base when he’s not pitching, he throws predominately left-handed in games and saves his right arm for when he’s in the field. He’s pitched 44 innings left-handed and 19 right-handed this season. He’ll throw more consistently with both arms when he’s only a pitcher with his travel team and attending showcase events this summer.

    Juan is still trying to figure out the best way to utilize Ryan’s ability moving forward.

    Right now, Ryan can rotate innings pitching both ways, but his arm cools off too quickly to switch from batter to batter. There’s also the question of whether he’s best suited as a reliever or a starting pitcher. Venditte is a reliever in Class AA.

    “We’ve received some feedback, and a Blue Jays scout said he was impressed, but asked, ‘How do I use it?’” Juan said. “That made me think. If Ryan gets his velocity to be at major league level and get hitters out both ways, can he be a starter both ways? Those are the questions that come up.”

    Ryan doesn’t have a preference. He wants what any high school player at his age wants -- to play in the majors. He’s just trying to do it differently than most.

    “The major leagues is what I’m shooting for,” Ryan said. “That would be awesome to get to the majors and pitch both ways and hit 90. I would be the first one to pitch 90 and consistently throwing left and right. It would be great for the show.”

    New Trier, Simeon coaches reach milestone

    May, 14, 2011
    AM CT

    New Trier coach Mike Napoleon and Simeon coach Leroy Franklin each won their 700th career baseball game this week.

    They became the eighth and ninth coaches to reach the 700-win plateau. Naperville Central coach Bill Seiple also won his 700th game earlier this season.

    Napoleon reached the mark on Thursday when the Trevians defeated Maine South. Napoleon is in his 26th season coaching and has won two state championships at New Trier.

    Franklin won his 700th game on Monday when Simeon defeated Morgan Park. Franklin has been at Simeon for 29 years.

    Both coaches already belong to the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

    POTW: Barry has record-setting week

    May, 8, 2011
    AM CT

    OAK FOREST, Ill. -- Few baseball records can be deemed unbreakable, but Oak Forest coach Thaddeus Gatton believes Tim Barry’s Illinois home run record is just that.

    [+] EnlargeTim Barry
    Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comTim Barry will play his college baseball at Kansas State.

    After Barry, an Oak Forest senior, cranked his 50th career home run and broke the state’s record on Friday, Gatton immediately stamped it as one that will stand forever.

    “You talk about baseball records all the time,” Gatton said. “This obviously isn’t a Major League record, but I don’t think it is something that will ever be broken. You don’t have four-year starters anymore. You don’t have players who hit consistently for power their entire career. Plus, the bat regulations are changing next year. Hitting a home run is going to be a 100 times harder.”

    With his two-run home run on Friday, Barry also broke the state’s career RBI record. Barry has 194 RBIs in his career.

    For his achievements, Barry is the ESPNChicago.com/Muscle Milk Prep Athlete of Week.

    Barry, who 6-feet and 215 pounds, has been terrorizing area pitchers since he first stepped to the plate at Oak Forest. As a freshman, he slugged 14 home runs. He hit 10 more as a sophomore and had a career-best 17 home runs last season. His home run on Friday gave him nine for this season.
    Earlier in the week, Barry hit four home runs in a doubleheader to tie the state’s record.

    “He caught up to it quickly,” Gatton said. “He didn’t have much time to think about it.”

    p>Barry was unable to break the record on Thursday. On Friday, he took care of it in the fifth inning on a changeup. His shot sailed well over the fence in left-center field.

    “He crushed it,” Gatton said. “He probably hit it 450 feet.”

    Barry said, “I was told by people that it hit the street on the fly.”

    As nearly a dozen family members celebrated in the stands, Barry circled the bases, received a hug from Gatton as he rounded third base and was mobbed by his teammates after stepping on home plate.

    “It was exciting, joyful,” Barry said. “Everyone was cheering and excited I finally broke the record. I was very proud of myself.”

    It was a moment, as Gatton said, that may not be seen again.

    Oak Forest's Barry breaks state records

    May, 7, 2011
    AM CT

    Oak Forest senior Tim Barry broke Illinois' career home run and RBI records with a single swing on Friday.

    Barry crushed an approximate 450-foot home run against Bremen at Oak Forest on Friday, setting new state records with 50 career home runs and 194 RBIs.

    Odin’s Curtis Parrish (2000-2003) owned the previous home run record with 49. Greenville’s Stefan Neece (2002-2005) had the RBI record with 193.
    Iowa’s Jeff Clement (1999-2002) holds the national record with 75 career home runs. Michigan’s Drew Henson (1995-1998) possesses the RBI mark with 290.

    “It was exciting,” said Barry, who bats righty and uses a 31-ounce, 34-inch bat. “I was very proud of myself. I knew I could do it. It means a lot. I put my name out there and also my family’s.”

    Oak Forest coach Thaddeus Gatton stopped Barry after he rounded third base, hugged him and told him he was proud of him.

    “It was very touching,” Gatton said. “It was a neat little moment. I think it was a huge burden off him. I think it was finally good for Timmy to get it out the way, and he can now just play baseball.

    “He’s the best high school, let alone college, maybe even higher hitter I’ve ever seen. I say this all the time. My assistant coach played juco and Division I, my other assistant played Double-A with the Dodgers, and I played Division III, and none of us have seen a hitter like him in our lives.”

    Barry set up the record-breaking day by knocking in four runs during a doubleheader on Wednesday. He went without one on Thursday.

    Barry hit 14 home runs as a freshman, 10 as a sophomore, 17 as a junior and has nine this season. Pittsfield’s Scott Riley holds the single-season home run record with 19 in 1999.

    “I think it’ll be possible to break my record, but I’m going to make it extremely difficult for them,” Barry said. “I will be hitting more. I’m trying to push it up to 60.”

    Gatton doesn’t believe anyone will touch the home run record wherever Barry leaves it at.

    “You talk about baseball records all the time,” Gatton said. “This obviously isn’t a Major League record, but I don’t think it is something that will ever be broken. You don’t have four-year starters anymore. You don’t have players who hit consistently for power their entire career. Plus, the bat regulations are changing next year. Hitting a home run is going to be a 100 times harder.”

    Barry is signed with Kansas State, but could opt to play professional baseball depending on where he’s selected in June’s draft.

    “I’m not worried about it,” Barry said. “Right now is right now. I worry about how I play now.”

    Oak Forest will hold ceremony to commemorate Barry’s accomplishment at a future home game.

    Surprising DH success at New Trier

    May, 4, 2011
    AM CT
    Kyle CollettaScott Powers/ESPNChicago.comNiles West pitcher Kyle Colletta making a throw to first base from the ground.

    WINNETKA, Ill. – New Trier senior Tommy Blanchard isn’t the most intimidating designated hitter from a physical standpoint.

    Standing 5-foot-6, Blanchard doesn’t resemble Adam Dunn when he steps to the plate. But what Blanchard lacks in size, he makes up with for with his quick hands and powerful legs, especially in the clutch.

    On Tuesday against Niles West, Blanchard showed that again. With the game tied, two runners on and two outs in the third inning, Blanchard pounced on a fastball and ripped the ball into the right-field corner to clear the bases.

    Blanchard’s hit would key an eight-run inning for the Trevians and seal a 9-5 win over visiting Niles West, giving the Wolves their first Central Suburban South loss.

    “I’ve been seeing the ball really well the last few weeks,” Blanchard said. “Luckily, coach has given me a chance. I’m short in stature, but when a hitter’s hitting, you got to stay with him.”

    New Trier coach Mike Napoleon has no plans of making a switch anytime soon. Blanchard has become one of the Trevians’ most reliable sluggers.

    “He’s probably not your prototypical DH,” said Napoleon, whose team improved to 14-6 overall and 6-3 in the CSL South. “But he’s really been hitting the ball lately. He’s come through lately with some big hits and motivated the rest of the team.”

    New Trier’s big inning did come with some controversy.

    [+] EnlargeEddie Fay
    Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comNew Trier's Eddie Fay takes a swing.
    With one out and New Trier’s Eddie Fay on first base, Josh Perlmutter grounded the ball to Niles West shortstop Kevin Ross. Ross stepped on second base for the second out, leaped over a sliding Fay and threw the ball to first base. The throw was off the mark, and first baseman Kenny Blanchard had to reach far to his right for the ball.

    The throw had beaten Perlmutter to first and would have been the final out of the inning. But the umpire called him safe, explaining Kenny Blanchard’s foot had come off first base when he extended for the ball. Niles West coach Garry Gustafson came out to argue, but the call remained.

    From there, it would be all New Trier. With two outs, the Trevians sent eight batters to the plate and had four hits, two walks, one hit batter and scored eight runs. Leadoff hitter Charlie Tilson capped off the inning with a two-run single that gave New Trier a 9-2 advantage.

    “We had nothing happening with two outs, and we just pieced together a big inning,” Napoleon said. “That doesn’t happen very often. No one wanted to make the last out.”

    The lead would be enough for Trevians starting pitcher Nick Hedge, who improved to 5-0. Hedge threw six innings, allowed five hits and three runs, walked one and struck out eight.

    Ross went 2-for-3 with a double, two RBIs and a run for the Wolves (18-4, 5-1).

    POTW: Villanova powers St. Laurence

    April, 24, 2011
    PM CT

    BURBANK, Ill. – With contact, senior Bryan Villanova began sprinting to first base.

    He had connected with a fastball, but he didn’t feel he had gotten all of the ball when it came off his aluminum bat. He was preparing himself for a fly out and just praying the ball might drop somewhere in center field.

    [+] EnlargeBryan Villanova
    Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.comBryan Villanova's grand slam helped St. Laurence to an upset of Providence.
    As he rounded first, Villanova continued to run as fast as he could, and the ball hadn’t landed yet. Almost halfway to second base, Villanova looked up and couldn’t believe his eyes. The ball had soared over the fence, and he had just hit a grand slam.

    The four-run homer would cap off a memorable day for Villanova. He went 2 for 4, doubled, homered, drove in six runs, score once and accounted for the game-winning hit in the Vikings’ 8-5 upset of nationally-ranked Providence on Saturday.

    For his performance, Villanova is the ESPNChicago.com/Muscle Milk Prep Athlete of the Week.

    “I thought it was a pop up,” said Villanova of his third home run of the season. “The wind took it. It was an incredible feeling. It was good beating them.”

    Providence pitcher Charlie Naso also thought from his perspective in the dugout that Villanova’s hit wasn’t going to get out of the park.

    “That was awesome,” Naso said. “That was one of the best hits I’ve ever seen in my life.”

    Villanova’s offensive heroics began in the fifth inning. After striking out swinging in his first two at bats, Villanova hammered the ball into the right-field gap to drive in two runs and give St. Laurence a brief 3-2 lead.

    After the Vikings allowed three runs on two errors in the top of the sixth and fell behind 5-3, Villanova came through again with the grand slam in the bottom of the sixth.

    To add to his day, Villanova, a catcher, also called every pitch for Naso because St. Laurence was missing its pitching coach for the day. Naso threw a complete game and struck out eight hitters for the win.

    “I can’t say enough about Bryan Villanova,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “Bryan made all the pitching calls today. He had a lot of responsibility, and he did a great job, especially with the two hits.”

    St. Laurence upsets touted Celtics

    April, 24, 2011
    AM CT

    BURBANK, Ill. -- The word around St. Laurence’s dugout before Saturday’s baseball game was a few of Providence’s players had already stated they were going to roll to a win over the Vikings and eventually to the Catholic League Blue crown.

    [+] EnlargeSt. Laurence vs. Providence
    Scott Powers for ESPNChicago.comWith Saturday's win, St. Laurence moved ahead of Providence in Catholic League.
    St. Laurence senior catcher Bryan Villanova hadn’t heard anyone say that first hand, but he believed the source as a number of his teammates were good friends with Providence’s players.

    Whether the trash-talking was actually true or not, Villanova and company used it to fuel them to an 8-5 comeback win over nationally-ranked and previously-unbeaten Providence at St. Laurence on Saturday afternoon.

    Providence, which was ranked No. 19 in ESPN RISE’s latest national rankings, fell to 14-1 overall and 4-1 in the Catholic League. The Vikings improved to 17-3 overall and 7-0 in conference.

    “They thought they were going to walk all over us, walk all over the Catholic League, but we got them,” Villanova said. “We heard them say how they were going to walk through everyone.

    “Everybody kind of wrote us off after the first couple of weeks after losing to Marist, thinking we’re not going to do anything. We’re going to prove them wrong.”

    Villanova did his part in Saturday’s win.

    After driving in two runs with a double in the fifth inning, Villanova came to bat with the bases loaded and St. Laurence down by 5-4 in the sixth. He sent the second pitch, a fastball from Providence reliever Cristian Ochoa, over the center-field wall for a grand slam and ultimately the win.

    “That was awesome,” St. Laurence senior pitcher Charlie Naso said. “That was one of the best hits I’ve ever seen in my life.”

    Villanova finished the day 2 for 4 with six RBIs.

    After Villanova’s heroics, Naso, an Illinois recruit, took care of the rest in the seventh inning. He retired Providence’s 3-4-5 hitters on a total of nine pitches for the complete-game effort.

    Naso pitched seven innings, allowed six hits, five runs and three earned runs, struck out eight and walked four. He often pitched out of trouble Saturday. He retired the side in just two innings against the Celtics.

    “It’s a little stressful being out of the stretch all day,” said Naso, who also went 2 for 4 at the plate. “I could have done better, but I’m just happy we got the win today. I battled through. That’s what coach tells us to do, and that’s what I was trying to do all game. I know they’re all good hitters, but I just tried to fight and get my team the win today.”

    Naso especially had to keep his cool in the top of the sixth inning. Two fielding errors by St. Laurence’s defense led to a three-run inning and gave the Celtics a 5-3 advantage.

    St. Laurence’s Kevin Smith kicked off the bottom of sixth inning with a single to left field. Mike Solofra, who previously hit a solo home run, continued the rally with a walk. No. 9 hitter Steve Fiorella followed with a single up the middle to drive in Smith and pull the Vikings within a run.

    “I don’t know if there’s a guy more clutch than Steve Fiorella,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “He hits nine for us, but he’s not the typical nine hitter. He just doesn’t feel pressure.”

    Leadoff hitter Brandon Mallder came up next and walked to put the bases loaded for Villanova.

    Providence starting pitcher Brandon Magallones, a Northwestern recruit, picked up the loss. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed six hits and seven earned runs, struck out six, walked four and hit three batters.

    Kevin DeFilippis hit a solo home run for Providence, and Joe Houlihan went 2 for 3 with two RBIs for the Celtics.

    St. Laurence will travel to Providence for a rematch on Monday.