Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 23 St. Charles East


By Andy Sroka
Illinois & Wisconsin Assistant Director

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on March 14, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next two weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2022 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, counting down through the official PBR Illinois Preseason Power 25 Rankings.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a Preseason Questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our team-by-team preseason analysis.

Our 2022 preseason coverage begins today.

Team: St. Charles East
Preseason Rank: No. 23
2021 Record: 22-10
Conference: DuKane
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: Len Asquini

roster preview

NAME POS CLASS COMMITMENT
Nathan Hayes RHP 2022 North Dakota State (football)
Gavin Sitarz LHP 2022 Michigan State
Jake Zitella INF 2023 Illinois

X-FACTOR

(8/2/20)

+ RHP Nathan Hayes (2022; North Dakota State commit, football): Hayes’ junior season was limited because of his obligations to St. Charles East’s football season as its starting quarterback. With the IHSA seasons jumbled last year, football and baseball overlapped somewhat, preventing Hayes from really earning a ton of varsity action. While it remains to be seen if he’ll pick up a baseball when he gets to Fargo, Hayes is still one of the top-ranked senior arms in the state for us, with upper-80s stuff that spins and carries at high rates, as does his swing-and-miss curveball. He’ll eat the innings left open by Dom Buono (Wisconsin-Platteville), who graduated with 50 innings and a 2.24 ERA a season ago. In Hayes’ nine innings of work last year, he struck out 15 batters and allowed just two earned runs.

OUTLOOK

The DuKane Conference has sneakily become one of the IHSA’s most competitive, with Lake Park and St. Charles North racing to deep postseason runs in recent years, but don’t discount the Saints from becoming the latest DuKane program to make a lengthy playoff run. St. Charles East returns five members of its daily lineup from a season ago, as well as its best two arms, seniors LHP Gavin Sitarz (Michigan State) and Hayes. There are some high-powered one-two punches across the IHSA scene this season, but the Sitarz and Hayes combo should also be in the running for the most competitive.

Sitarz complemented the aforementioned Buono at the top of the rotation in 2021. He totaled 44.2 innings as a junior and struck out 69 over that stretch, wrapping up the season with a 2.51 ERA. The lefty has long impressed us with his results and strike-throwing capabilities, and he misses plenty of bats (as you can tell) without leaning on big velocity.

Gavin Sitarz (6/15/21)

What’ll prove to be critical to the team’s offensive success in 2022 is the amount of at-bats 3B Jake Zitella (Illinois) earned as a sophomore a season ago. Zitella totaled 100 plate appearances for the Saints last year, and found a ton of barrels, by the looks of it. The underclassmen collected 15 extra-base hits, including six home runs, and hit .368 while striking out just 11 times total. We saw the Illinois recruit this winter where his swing looked just as aggressive and innate feel for the barrel remained intact, suggesting a huge year in store for the junior. 

Jake Zitella (10/22/21)

While Hayes’ older brother Kyle (Kirkwood CC) and teammates Jack Lawson (Elgin CC) and Caleb Hubbard have, unfortunately for St. Charles East, graduated, Zitella and the Saints are still returning much of an offense that hit nearly .300 as a unit in 2021. For example, 2B Carter Laskowski (2022) returns a .396 average in 77 plate appearances as a junior, and he earned 17 walks over that span and five of his 21 hits went for extra bases. SS Seth Winkler (2023) played in 13 games as a sophomore last year and went a combined 11-for-34, and he’s penciled in at shortstop. And we’re pretty familiar with C A.J. Gaca (2022; Carthage College), a senior who’s demonstrated right-handed bat strength in showcase settings combined with a reliable skill set behind the plate, both as a receiver and as a threat to baserunners. Juniors Eddie Herrera and Clay Jensen and senior Dom LeBlanc are expected to align in the outfield from left to right, and their inexperience is among the biggest question marks for the Saints on paper prior to opening day. With that being said, we did get a good look at Jensen last month in Lockport, where flashed some left-handed pop in a strong, athletic build, which raises our hopes that he’ll fit right in at center field and hit near the middle of this order sooner than later.

BOTTOM LINE

In a year in which the DuKane looks like it could be up for grabs, St. Charles East looks like it has returned enough talent from last year’s 22-win team, while adding the proper pieces it’ll take to make a run at the conference crown, which could lead them to the postseason success this conference has become familiar with. Headlined by a tough duo at the top of its rotation, the Fighting Saints’ have strengths that complement each other, steered by a head coach, Len Asquini, who was just inducted into the IHSBCA. The 2022 spring looks like it could be St. Charles East’s best chance at a state berth since their last appearance in 2012-13.

Make sure to follow @PBRIllinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2022 season.

Find more information on the 2022 Fighting Saints below:

+ Team Website
+ Team Schedule
+ Team Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN