By Drake Skleba
For the Bugle
After another 20-plus win season and the first Class 4A regional championship in school history, Plainfield East head baseball coach Adam O’Reel and his Bengals, are looking for “bigger and better” things in 2017.
Returning seven seniors, from the most successful baseball team in the nine-year old Plainfield school’s history, O’Reel will have 18 juniors also on the roster. Two years ago as freshman, the baby Bengals went 30-3. Now juniors, the grown-up Bengals look to produce for the 2017 big Bengals.
“We are very young,” O’Reel said. “We have 18 juniors and a sophomore. The seven seniors that return from last year, were not all starters. We look to JJ Zywiciel, David Salazar and Logan Schmitt, for leadership. All three were major contributors for the 2016 regional champs.”
“What we accomplished last season has really been a boost for us, at the start of this season,” Zywiiciel said. “We have had a great start to the season and our looking forward to going further than we did last season. We really want to win the SPC and win the Class 4A sectional, that we ‘re not able to do last season.”
The hard-throwing southpaw, Schmitt, who was 3-1 with a microscopic 1.61 ERA in ’16, looks to be the ace for the Bengal staff. Zywiciel moves into the no. 2 spot in the rotation. Juniors, RHP Luke Lamm and southpaw Danny Balzheiser, look to solidify the Bengal staff.
“I’m looking forward to my season on the mound,” Schmitt said. “I have a couple of things I have to work out but everything should be OK. The warm weather should be here and that always helps. We have a lot of young talented arms and are looking to have a big season.”
Salazar moves over to shortstop from second base, to anchor the Bengal infield. Senior Jake Knoebel, returns at third base. Junior Sean Hebreard, goes to second and junior Josh Shuetz, moves to first base, after starting as a sophomore, behind the plate, in 2016
“We have a very young but very talented team,” Salazar said. “We want to go out and compete to the best of our ability every day. The conference is as strong as ever and every game, we will have to play our best, to be successful. I want to be a leader of this team, along with Logan and JJ. We were all part of that regional championship team, last year and I want to help my young and talented teammates.”
The outfield is led by the hard-hitting RF Dalton Crowder. The fleet-footed Jake Havis, patrols center and Nick Baldassano, is in left. Juniors, Joey Fox, Chris Marchione and Wheaton St. Francis-transfer Liam Poe, will handle the talented Bengal pitchers, behind the plate.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The words of philosopher Malcom Forbes, are never more true when pertaining to the Southwest Prairie Conference, in 2017. With the addition of Joliet West and Central, the SPC, will be a 10-team conference. In 2016, the SPC achieved its most successful season ever, winning five Class 4A regional championship. All four Plainfield District 202 schools, plus Minooka. were regional champions.
“For all four of our Plainfield District 202 schools, to bring home regional championships, last year, I’m sure it was unprecedented,” O’Reel added. “I believe that no other four-school, school district, has ever accomplished the feat.”
Plainfield South fell to eventual three-consecutive Class 4A state champion Providence, in the University of Illinois Class 4A supersectional. Plainfield North lost to Providence, in the Class 4A Semifinals. Not bad for the Will/Kendall County’s finest high school baseball conference.
After today, April 7th’s action, the four Plainfield school’s have a combined 29-7 record in 2017. SPC members Oswego East, Oswego and Minooka are even better, at 24-3 led by Oswego East’s perfect 10-0 mark. SPC Conference action begins on Monday. “The more things change. The more they stay the same.”
The Bengals open at SPC newcomer, Joliet Central at 4:30 on Monday, April 10, in the new, 2 -game home and home SPC series. In the old 8-school SPC, a three-game conference series took place.
“I really enjoyed the major league-type three-game series, we had in the SPC,” O’Reel said. “By the third game of the series, we were sick of seeing, in a positive way, the same team and it really helped create great rivalries. Also you had a winner in the best-of-three series.”