3/14/2017 5:39:00 PM Hustlin' Comets returning with plenty of experience
by Brent Sumner Staff writer
After a team secures a state title, a higher standard is often expected the following year.
While the Comet baseball team took first at the 2A State Finals a year ago, they will be undergoing a an identity change as the season begins. After all, they lost six seniors through graduation, including star pitchers Brent Headrick and Jordan Walden.
They will also be under the direction of first-year varsity coach Jake Evans, who was the pitching coach last year. He will be replacing long-time head coach Jerry Cougill.
Evans will be assisted by Jeff Richey and Chris Vidmar on the varsity level, along with JV coaches, Alex King, Bill Asbridge and Paul Kuiper.
"Our goal year in and year out is to win our side of the conference and to win a Regional Championship," said Evans. "While we have players on this team that won a state title last year, we are not that same team as whole. That's not to say our goals stop at a Regional title this year, but we know that nothing else is possible unless we can win our Regional."
The Comets finished last season 29-5 (13-3 conference), along with the title of not only I-8 South Conference champs, but also state champs.
With the loss of those valuable seniors, Evans will be looking to his new batch of upper classmen to lead the way.
That includes two more stud pitchers eager to fill the ranks, seniors Eddie Wilkins and Hunter Murawski.
Wilkins has already committed to the University of Illinois-Springfield, and played a pivotal roll in the post-season stretch, giving the Comets enough talent on the mound to reach the state finals.
He finished last year with an undefeated pitching record (7-0), and an ERA of only 1.35.
He was also a threat at the plate, winding up with a .300 batting average, 24 RBIs and three home runs.
He will be joined by Murawski, who will see more time on the mound with the departures of Headrick and Walden.
Murawski was 2-0 with an ERA of 1.79.
He will also be a quality hitter, finishing last season with a .402 batting average, 24 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.
Along with those two, the Comets will return six more veteran players, including catcher Sam Lepper, and infielders Mason Roach, Carson Anderson and Danny Fierro.
They will be joined by veteran outfielders, Tyler Richey, Adam Wright and Parker Dransfeldt, along with sophomore Josh Loomis.
Loomis, who played varsity as a freshman last year, could also see time on the mound, as he went 1-0 last spring with an ERA of 1.37.
"While we graduated six seniors last year, we return enough pieces to be considered an experienced team in my opinion," said Evans. "Although we lost two power arms, I expect our pitching staff to be one of our strengths again this season.
"We will be working very hard in practice to make improvements in our offensive game to fill some holes in our line-up."
Along with the returning cast, the Comets will also bring up several players who are expected to make an impact.
Reed-Custer will have five juniors joining the roster, including pitchers Gavin Grace and Cody LaGrange.
They will be joined by catcher Jacob Beyer and outfielders Tyler Duha and Adrian Fierro.
The Comets will also bring up a freshman, Trevor McLaughlin, who Evans is excited to see make an impact on the varsity line-up.
McLaughlin will probably see some time on the mound, along with playing the infield.
"We return some players from last year's team, but we are a different team with a different identity," Evans added. "We will be fairly young in some areas, and will look to the returning players for leadership."
With the Comets returning a star-studded cast, their goals may not be so far out of reach.
However, they will have plenty of teams in the conference looking to dethrone the champions.
Manteno, Herscher and Coal City continuously have strong programs, plus it doesn't help that the Tigers will be back down in 2A this year. That could put a damper on the post season.
"Herscher returns quite a bit of talent, and their head coach does a great job getting the most out of his teams," Evans said. "Coal City graduated some key players last year, but Jerry will have his guys ready to play, and they will be solid as always."
Other teams that could make an impact on the conference include Wilmington and Peotone.
The Comets are set to begin their season on Saturday, when they host Grant Park. That is, if the snow clears up.
Reed-Custer will then have a week-long break before hosting another double-header the following Saturday with Dwight and El Paso.