Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 1 St. Charles North


By Andy Sroka
Illinois and Wisconsin Assistant Director

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on April 12, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next several weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2021 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, leading into a countdown 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 2021 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: St. Charles North
Preseason Rank: No. 1
2019 Record: 29-11
Conference: DuKane
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: Todd Genke

TOP PLAYERS

NAME POS CLASS COMMITMENT
Lucas Bolender 1B 2021 Concordia (WI)
Nicholas DeMarco INF/RHP 2021 Notre Dame
Andrew Jimenez INF/RHP 2021 Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Zach Kempe RHP 2021 Notre Dame
Eric Lee RHP 2021 -
Declan McGrath RHP 2021 Kishwaukee JC
Alex Najera OF 2021 Wisconsin-Whitewater
Marco Torres C/OF 2021  Wisconsin-Whitewater
Kevin White INF/RHP 2021 -
Ryan Caccia OF 2022 -
Jack Kennedy LHP 2022 -
George Litgen III OF 2022 -
Jayden Lobliner C/INF 2022 Kansas State
Aidan O'Connell C/INF 2022 -
Stephen Schwartz RHP 2022  -

STAT RAT

2,890 rpm: Senior RHP Zach Kempe exploded up the state’s 2021 rankings last year, and he quickly became one of the top pitchers in the region not yet committed – until he made his verbal commitment to Notre Dame in late July. Kempe, an athletic 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, separates himself from his peers with his elite spin rate numbers that accompany his live fastball-slider combination. Kempe’s lived in the low-90s for us in a live game setting, and his slider reached a nearly 2,900 rpm high at the prestigious PBR Midwest ProCase mid-summer. It’s one of the best offspeed pitches in the state’s class, and his fastball reaches similarly impressive spin ranges, measured up to 2,484 rpm at that same ProCase event.

Zach Kempe (7/7/20)

For St. Charles North, Kempe’s returning his 45 innings pitched in his sophomore spring, where he groomed an ERA of just 2.18. He started his team’s Super-Sectional victory against Plainfield Central in 2019, and he’ll return as the team’s ace of staff this spring.

RETURNER TO WATCH

Since St. Charles North’s runner-up finish in the 2019 4A state title game, C/INF Jayden Lobliner has emerged as one of the top juniors in Illinois’ 2022 class. Lobliner eventually earned playing time on that squad as just a freshman, handling third base effectively – so well, that the North Stars called on him as a defensive replacement late in the game where he went on to make an excellent play on a slow-roller which helped quell a late St. Rita rally; helping push his team to their first-ever state championship appearance.

Jayden Lobliner (3/20/21)

Lobliner’s since continued to show very well defensively, though more so at catcher. He’s athletic all-around with quick feet and arm strength that combines for consistently low pop times. Lobliner is certainly capable of shining at either catcher or third base for SCN, but his best long-term spot continues to look like backstop. His aggressive and loud, right-handed swing shapes one of the top Nos. 1-4 of a lineup in the state; he just averaged an exit speed of 91.1  mph at the Preseason All-State, with a 97.2 max, so he’s expected to take on an even larger role since debuting as a freshman for his high school.

X-FACTOR

The other senior Notre Dame recruit on this roster, INF/RHP Nick DeMarco, has been a do-it-all star player since he was a freshman at St. Charles North. He earned PBR Second-Team All-State honors after his stellar sophomore season, in which he was a key reason as to why the North Stars made it to the 4A title game. During the 2019 spring season, DeMarco hit .366 with five home runs, 36 RBIs, and 25 runs scored all while operating as the team’s shut-down reliever and everyday shortstop.

Nicholas DeMarco (7/7/20)

Simultaneously, DeMarco is one of the top players in the state’s 2021 class, ranked No. 4 overall and a top-250 player in the nation. He’s a highly competitive, versatile prospect who produces easy bat speed and simple bat strength from a compact 6-foot, 195-pound stature. He was up to 90 mph from the mound early last summer, and appears like he’ll be handling the closer role again as a senior. For context, DeMarco K’d 30 batters in over 13 innings throughout his sophomore spring in the role.

OUTLOOK

The North Stars got as close as you can get to winning the 4A state championship in 2019, but they’ll open the 2021 season as our preseason favorite to hoist the trophy at the start of this summer. It’s hard to believe, but there’s actually quite a few names already familiar with the speed of the varsity level. So the experience they gained as underclassmen in 2019 will prove vital in this team’s march back to state under Head Coach Todd Genke’s watch. Genke’s won 400 games in his coaching career, and each of those victories will come in handy as this team prepares to ready itself for this spring season, following a lost 2020 one in which they were denied another chance to capture a state title.

There’s numerous players on this roster who’ve earned, in some form, varsity experience. We touched on seniors DeMarco and Kempe, as well as the junior Lobliner, but there’s even more names here who will help St. Charles North pick up where they left off in 2019, having won 33 games en route to a second-place finish in Joliet.

Among the top returning players to this dugout is INF/RHP Andrew Jimenez, a UW-Milwaukee commit and one of the most physical, imposing right-handed hitters in the state. Jimenez is built at a brawny 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, though his muscular stature does not inhibit his quickness, as he ran a 6.70 in the 60-yard dash last August, and a 6.84 in February. He generates simple, yet electric, bat speed that helps utilize his obvious strength. At that August showcase, Jimenez recorded a max exit speed of 100.2 mph and hit one ball an estimated 391 feet. He’s a steady defender fit to handle the daily third base duties, though he’ll also be counted on to handle some kind of major pitching role. He was up to 83 mph as a sophomore in 2019, and he should be plenty able to fill out a spot on the staff to boost the depth of the rotation, carrying games to DeMarco for him to close out.

Andrew Jimenez (8/11/20)

We’ve seen Jimenez’s powerful right-handed swing play in game, and his offensive profile helps shape as dangerous a middle-order as there is, next to DeMarco and Lobliner, as well as seniors like C/OF Marco Torres, OF Alex Najera, 1B Lucas Bolender, and INF/RHP Kevin White, in addition to juniors like OF Ryan Caccia, C/INF Aidan O'Connell, and OF George Litgen III. All of a sudden, the lineup looks as deep and threatening as there is in the state’s Preseason Power 25.

Torres, Najera, and Bolender are each committed to play Division-III ball in Wisconsin this fall. Torres played in 30 games as a sophomore in 2019, and hit .232 with two doubles, gaining useful experience. Najera swings a loose left-handed bat that should play nicely, attached to his athleticism in the outfield. Bolender’s right-handed bat contains some bat strength for the back half of this lineup to use. White earned 90 at-bats as a sophomore, and hit .333 in 2019 with four doubles – and he should see some action from the mound as well. 

Keep an eye on both Caccia and O'Connell, too. Caccia's a sub-6.90 runner with a quiet, controlled right-handed bat who moves fluidly in the outfield. O'Connell offers more bat speed and strength to bolster this robust daily lineup, should he break into it in a position yet to be determined.

Fellow juniors like RHP Stephen Schwartz and LHP Jack Kennedy will be tasked with filling in some of the depth this starting rotation lacks, as it’s SCN’s lone area of weakness. Having a go-to arm like Kempe and reliable closer like DeMarco benefits the North Stars greatly, but filling the rest of the innings will ultimately be critical to this team’s long-term success. So senior RHP Eric Lee seems likely to earn a starting opportunity. He's a lanky 6-foot-2 righty with upside, who was up to 83 mph last summer, with a tight slider that should help him grow into his role on staff. Kishwaukee JC commit RHP Declan McGrath is another senior righty who should carve out regular innings for himself as well.

BOTTOM LINE

The North Stars aren’t just the No. 1-ranked team in the state to start the season because of their 2019 finish. While the experience many of these players earned on that runner-up ride will play a pivotal role in this 2021 spring season, St. Charles North is also just that good. This is a mature lineup, fit with seniors who are more than just used to the varsity scene, and its 2022 class is all set to cover the holes left behind by the large, talented 2020 class. A Kempe start, DeMarco at short and set to close, after this fierce lineup does its job, seems like the winningest combination in Illinois.

Make sure to follow @PBRIllinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2021 season.

Find more information on the 2021 North Stars below:

+ Team Website

+ Team Schedule

+ Team Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN