By Matt Nestor
There have been plenty of talented players and teams at different times playing baseball in the NIC-10. But this season is lining up to be one of the most loaded seasons in recent memory.
The conference should be tough top to bottom, with several teams featuring top-flight pitchers and hitters in their lineup, which means no days off in the conference.
“We have a strong conference,” Harlem coach Doug Livingston said. “Our conference is as good as any conference in the state this year. And we proved that last summer. We’re going to have a lot of people watching us around the state. We’re going to have a lot of scouts watching us, which is a great thing for our conference. We always have a lot of talent around here, but a lot of coaches don’t want to go out of Chicago to see it.”
The strength of the conference is going to be in the pitching. The top four teams all feature starting pitchers who are going on to play Division I baseball and may even have a shot to be drafted in the Major League Baseball June Draft.
So, after going through an entire conference season, these teams will all have to see each other in the IHSA regional, where the hot pitcher may be enough to get you on to the sectional.
“Boylan, Guilford and Hononegah all have Division I pitchers,” Livingston said. “We’re all in the same regional this year. We’re going to beat each other up in the conference, then beat each other up in the regional. And whoever wins our regional is going to deserve it. You’re going to face two Division I pitchers to win our regional, and that just doesn’t happen that often around here.”
Boylan and Harlem are both considered the favorites coming into the season. Both fought for second behind Hononegah last year. And while the Indians should be tough, they did graduate a lot of seniors from last year’s conference champion and will start the year talented, but inexperienced.
“Harlem and Boylan are probably the class of the conference right now,” Hononegah coach Matt Simpson said. “They have a lot of guys back from last year that are going to be pretty strong. Those are the two teams to beat. With us being young, hopefully by May we’re playing at their level.”
And while the Titans and Huskies will be good, with the Indians not too far behind, Boylan coach Chris Rozanski said the Guilford Vikings have just as good a shot as anyone to be at the top of the conference.
“Guilford returns probably as many full-time players as we do,” he said. “They also have a good arm there in Cyrus Wimberly.”
With some top-level pitching and some young hitters, it may lead to quite a few pitchers’ duels with the conference on the line this year. It should also prepare whoever comes out of the conference in one piece ready to make a deep postseason run.
“We think it’s a pretty competitive conference,” Rozanski said. “Everyone had a feeling it was Hononegah’s to lose last year. Conference champion was undefeated last year. This year, three, four or five losses may be able to win you the title.”
From the March 24-30, 2010 issue