By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
Last season, the Machesney Park Harlem Huskies baseball team was overlooked. Replacing a lot of their talent, most people saw them as a middle-of-the-pack team in the NIC-10 race.
The young Huskies surprised a lot of people on their way to a second-place finish in the conference. With 11 seniors on the team this season, nine of whom played last year, it would seem to make Harlem an easy favorite for the conference this year.
Rockford Boylan Catholic and Rockton Hononegah again are looked at as the favorites for the conference once again. But Harlem coach Doug Livingston thinks his veteran team is in a pretty good spot right now.
“Everyone is talking about Boylan and Hononegah, as usual, but we think we can go compete with those guys on any given day,” Livingston said. “(Our players) know the system pretty well. A couple of them have been with us since their sophomore year, so that’s helped out quite a bit.”
One of the biggest reasons for their confidence is a productive summer that saw Harlem make a trip down state in summer league play. Unlike the four-class system in the spring, summer ball is played as one class, and after a 19-1 season, the Huskies took fifth down state.
“That was a great experience for us to go down there and play that competition,” Livingston said. “I think that has been a big confidence booster for our kids this year.”
While the other favorites have struggled out of the gate, Harlem has got off to a strong start behind senior leaders like Parker Anderson, Derrick Mason, Drake Robison and Dylan Elmer.
Anderson, who took all-state honors during the summer, is a three-year varsity player. Robison and Elmer give the Huskies a dangerous top of the rotation pitching while Mason hits third, plays first base and has pitched well as well.
“It starts with pitching,” Livingston said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that have been with us for a while, and with a senior group, we’re hoping experience will prevail over the younger Hononegah kids and Boylan.
“Boylan has a couple of pitchers that seem to beat us every year, but we have more depth in our staff, as much as any team in the conference,” he said.
Not only are the Titans and Indians of concern, but the conference as a whole seems to be improved. Belvidere North is coming off a 20-win season, and Rockford Guilford is a perennial contender.
Offense is down across the board around the state, and pitching is at a premium. And Livingston says with that being his team’s strength, he hopes the Huskies can get off to a hot start with conference play starting this week.
“There could be three or four teams that can beat any of the favorites at any time,” he said. “We’ll get a good test (April 11) because we are home against Hononegah. So, we’ll find out right away.”
From the April 11-17, 2012, issue