Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 11 Brother Rice


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The Illinois high school season kicks off on March 12th, the first day for regular season games.

Leading up to the opening week of games we will be rolling out team previews of high school teams all across the state and across all classifications, eventually launching our Preseason Power 25.

We will bring you a snapshot of what to expect along with top players and keys to success for that particular team.

Team: Brother Rice
Preseason Rank: 11
2017 Record: 29-10
Conference: Chicago Catholic League (Blue)
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: John McCarthy
Playoff Run: Sectional finals 
2017 Final Rank: 6
Returning Starters: 3
Returning Pitchers: 2

KEY PLAYERS LOST

Jack Guzek, RHP (Indiana State)
Ryan King, SS (Michigan State)
Ryan Kutt, RHP (Illinois)
Andy Lopez, C (Lincoln Land CC)
Pat Mayo, 3B (Spring Hill College)
Jake Ridgway, OF/C (Indiana State)
Shane Gorman, LHP
Josh Silverman, RHP (Benedictine, IL)

TOP PLAYERS

Name State School Class Pos Commitment
Sam Jones
IL Brother Rice 2018 3B Indiana
Joe Payton
IL Brother Rice 2018 RHP Central Michigan
Ryan Palmblad
IL Brother Rice 2018 LHP Central Michigan
Patrick Hayes
IL Brother Rice 2018 SS Illinois State
Zach Litke IL Brother Rice 2018 RHP Concordia (IL)
Kendall Pettis
IL Brother Rice 2019 OF Oklahoma
Michael Bolton
IL  Brother Rice
2019  OF Purdue
Danny Doligale
IL  Brother Rice 2019  OF  
Ryan Maher
IL Brother Rice 2019 INF  
Eric Diaz
IL Brother Rice 2019 RHP  
Jack Payton IL Brother Rice
2020 C
Micah Gouwens
IL Brother Rice 2020 RHP
Marquis Jackson IL Brother Rice 2020 OF Oklahoma

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

Sophomore C Jack Payton saw some time at the varsity level as a DH for the Crusaders down the stretch last season, so you know he has the bat ready for the level of competition he’ll be squaring off against in the Chicago Catholic League. The biggest obstacle in his way of playing time last year was senior C Andy Lopez (Lincoln Land CC), who has since graduated.

Now, Payton will be splitting the catching duties evenly with junior Mike Hopkins. Both Hopkins and Payton should also see themselves in the middle of the lineup even when they are not catching. Payton has a physical frame and power in his bat. Defensively, he is athletic, has a strong arm and fully capable of handling this varsity staff. This year could be the sophomore’s breakout campaign.

X-FACTOR

This Brother Rice Class of 2019 has been highly touted for its athleticism and as juniors, finally, they’ll be set to pick up a ton of slack lost from last year’s gifted graduated class. Outfielders Kendall Pettis (Oklahoma), Mike Bolton (Purdue), and Danny Doligale have all seen intermittent action at the varsity level but now is their chance to grab ahold of permanent playing time. All three juniors are presently ranked in the top-10 at their position within their Illinois class but the three also bring different tools to the table.

Pettis may be more of a corner outfielder on this team but has the athleticism to play all three spots. He has the bat to make an big impact offensively. Bolton (6.54 runner in the 60) profiles as a center fielder because of his exceptional speed and instincts. The left-handed hitter has top-of-the-order potential, too, because of his hand/eye skills and contact-first approach. And Doligale is more of a well-rounded position player. He’s an athletic defender that has the speed and arms strength to play all three outfield spots. Offensively, he has a loose left-handed swing with sneaky pop.

Elsewhere, look for RHPs Eric Diaz and Eli Sweiss to bring up the caboose of the rotation and for INF Ryan Maher to make his presence felt as well.

Michael Bolton (2.11.18)

OUTLOOK

How many teams can find their way onto a list like this after losing four Division-I bound seniors and seven players in total who are playing college ball this spring? I can’t think of any, really, but Brother Rice is one. Maybe that’s because they have seven -- count ‘em -- D-I commits in their dugout right now.

The Crusaders have become a hotbed for Big Ten baseball talent in recent years, with two verbal commits among them now: senior 3B Sam Jones (Indiana), a three-year starter and captain, and the junior Bolton (Purdue).

Jones is going to be heavily leaned on to apply to his three years of varsity experience among a crowd of starters and contributors who have yet to receive regular playing time but will be expected to see the field more often in 2018. Losing their starting shortstop Ryan King (Michigan State) and their ace Ryan Kutt (Illinois) to graduation is an enormous hole to patch but this 2018 class of seniors is actually fit to see it done.

Taking over for King should be Illinois State commit and senior Patrick Hayes. He can handle himself in the batter’s box but his trustworthiness as a defender is what will make him so important for Brother Rice’s unseasoned pitching staff and will help Coach John McCarthy keep his own nerves in check. Though, he knows as well as anyone how ruthless the CCL is.

Last year, the Crusaders came out on top of that dogpile and won their conference, though they eventually fell in the sectional finals to familiar combatants St. Laurence. Brother Rice actually beat St. Rita to get to their meeting with the Vikings, too. The CCL beats up on each other and this year’s going to be more of the same. But Coach McCarthy is hoping the dogfight that is the CCL’s regular season schedule will help weather the number of inexperienced arms he’s set to have take the mound this season.

Apart from last year’s No. 3 starter, senior RHP Joey Payton (Central Michigan), go-to reliever and spot starter, senior LHP Ryan Palmblad (Central Michigan), and senior RHP Zach Litke (Concordia, IL), Brother Rice is going to be plugging the gaps in its rotation with junior or even possibly sophomore arms. Sophomore RHP Micah Gouwens might be one. He’s got some high upside because of his size and live, mid-80s arm. He should see some innings by the end of the spring.  

BOTTOM LINE

The type of inexperience Brother Rice has on the mound can cost them games against the likes of Providence, St. Laurence, and Mount Carmel this spring. But the Crusaders are counting on those games to help toughen them up in order to be ready for another deep postseason run at the end of May.

This senior class is equipped to handle a leadership role and this junior class is talented enough to ignite the Crusaders on a charge toward state. Brother Rice joins a fleet of CCL state contenders and they might prove to be the one with the best shot come June -- they are back-to-back CCL Blue champs after all.

Find more information on the 2018 Crusaders below:

+ Full Schedule
Team Website
+ Gamechanger
Twitter

Make sure to follow @pbrillinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the season.

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN