2019 Season Outlook

After a successful season a year ago that ended with positive results, the 2018-19 baseball team is looking to pick up where they left off. The Trolls finished last year’s campaign with a 35-23 overall record and an 18-12 conference record and broke various team season records along the way. They claimed the title of CCAC Tournament champions and advanced to the NAIA Opening Round. With that taste of success this year’s team is determined to continue in that successful path and has the tools to make it happen.

This year’s squad consists of 28 players of which 19 are returning from a season ago. The team will fill the effects of losing five significant position player starters and a handful of their pitching staff, but will replace them with capable returning players or one of the nine newcomers to the team. There will be some key positions that the team will need to fill in the infield. The Trolls will also need to adjust at the plate as they lost some of their fire power from a team that batting .344 for the season a year ago. They lost their top two hitters, but return their next five who all hit above .300.

“We look to defend our conference championship title and to return to NAIA play,” said Justin Huisman in his ninth year as head coach. “We have some solid returners and a handful of returning starter on the mound that we will build around.  We will have to see how some of the other returners step up and how new players can fill in.”

On the field there are a few gaps that will need to be filled in. The team returns starters at two of the bases and behind the plate, but has open positions in the infield. The outfield has one returning starter as well as a couple of players that were in the line-up for a portion of the last season. On the mound the Trolls lost seven throwers, but have a wide range of pitchers who can contribute. In the early season the team may have to take some time to adjust to see what combinations work and who can fill what role.

“We have a few infield positions that will need to be filled, but we do have some new transfers as well as returners who will vie for those positions,” commented Huisman. “We have a number of options for the outfield and we will have to determine what works best in the line-up.”

“I feel good about our starting pitchers and what they bring this year,” said Huisman. “The biggest question will be how our newcomers perform and our relievers hold up.”

That pitching staff consists of 13 players who can provide innings on the mound. They are still relatively young, but have enough experienced throwers to provide a solid base. They return three starters from a year ago and will rely on those pitchers to help them in the conference schedule. In addition they have five other returners that will play significant roles. Added to that list are five newcomers of which some will contribute immediately, some will develop into the game, and some will also be position players.

One leader on the mound is returning starter sophomore Dan Vos (Orland Park, Illinois), who earned CCAC All-Conference Second Team honors last year as a rookie. He led the team with a 2.89 ERA in 62.1 innings pitched and also posted 67 strike-outs. Senior Bryan Vanderlee (St. John, Indiana) is another returning starter that will be counted on. A year ago he had 10 starts and pitched 65 inning with a 4.15 ERA. He also finished with a 6-4 record.  Senior Christian Howell (Aurora, Illinois) will also take a starting role. He pitched two games in the fall last season before he sat out the spring season. Having him in the rotation full-time will make a difference this season.

Another key returner on the pitching staff is sophomore John VanderWall (Orland Park, Illinois). A year ago he made 13 appearances with five starts and a total of 52.2 innings. He posted a 5-1 record and had a 3.25 ERA. He will move into more of starting role this season.  Also returning and providing valuable innings are sophomore Jared Smaga (Warrenville, Illinois), junior Josh York (Zeeland, Michigan), sophomore Zach Huisman (St. John, Indiana), and sophomore Ramon Flores (Burbank, Illinois).

The Trolls have five new pitchers that will contribute in various ways. Junior Bryan Martinez (Cicero, Illinois) is a transfer who played the last two seasons at College of DuPage. With his experience he will be able to step in as a starter on the mound. Freshman Mike McIntyre (Oak Lawn, Illinois) also has the ability to earn a spot as a starter or to come in as a reliever to get the job done.  Others on the pitching staff that are also position players are freshman Jordan Cruz (Frankfort, Illinois), freshman Joseph Kabbes (Effingham, Illinois), and freshmen Ryan Stejskal (Arlington Heights, Illinois).

The team will have a new look in the infield with only a couple of returning starters. One returner is senior Alex Nisle (Schererville, Indiana) who played first or third a year ago and will most likely start at third base this season. He will provide stability and leadership on the field, but also be a key in the batting order. A year ago he hit .313 with a total of 61 hits of which 18 were doubles. He also posted 34 RBI. Junior Austin Wood (Bartonville, Illinois) returns as the starting second baseman. A year ago Wood helped the team defensively, but also was a key to the offense with a .348 batting average. He had a total of 70 hits, led the team in total sacrifices, and had 47 RBI. Senior Jake Tholl (Tinley Park, Illinois) brings experience to the catching position where he started last year. Tholl earned CCAC All-Conference and NCCAA North Central All-Region honors last year. When not in the line-up behind the plate he will be the designated hitter as he is the team’s leading returning hitter. A year ago he posted a .365 batting average with 72 hits, including 19 doubles and eight home runs, and led the team with 62 RBI. He ranked in the top ten in the conference in multiple offensive categories.

There will be a number of new and returning individuals filling in some of the other infield positions. Newcomer sophomore Will Kulcher (Crown Point, Indiana), a transfer from Dean College in Massachusetts, is a strong candidate for a starting position. He can play short stop or second base or can fill an outfield position as well. Kulcher will also be looked to for production at the plate. Junior Liam Blake (Oak Lawn, Illinois), who has had limited time in the past two season, can earn a position at first base. Another potential starter at first base is freshman Stejskal, who is also a part of the pitching staff. Junior Josh Caceres (Burbank, Illinois), a transfer who played last season at Harper College, will use his experience to share the starting catching duties with Tholl.

In addition returners junior Frank Romano (Elmhurst, Illinois) and junior Alex Gerhardt (Appleton, Wisconsin) bring experience to the middle inning positions. Romano also plays an active role as a pinch runner. Freshmen Noah Groen (Grand Rapids, Michigan), Trevor Turco (Montgomery, Texas), as well as Cruz and Kabbes mentioned on the pitching staff, round out the potential infield players.  

The player with the most experience in the outfield is senior Chris Baker (South Holland, Illinois), who started in center field last year. A year ago he posted a .349 batting average and had a total of 73 hits, including 16 doubles, four triples, and seven home runs. He also had 44 RBI and scored 60 runs. As a top ten player in various stat categories in the conference he earned CCAC All-Conference Second Team and NCCAA North Central All-Region honors last year.  Junior Sam Herzog (Hudsonville, Michigan) started in 21 games in right or left field or at first base last year. He will factor into the starting line-up in the outfield this season. Junior Morgan Nowitzki (Darien, Illinois) also had 23 starts in left field a year ago and can occupy that position this season. At the plate he had a .313 batting average and is one of the team’s top five returners. When not on the field, he will use his speed on the base path to pinch run.

The Trolls will have a couple of other returning players that they will call on to fill an outfield position. Junior Brandon Riemersma (Zeeland, Michigan) mainly entered the game as a pinch runner for the past two seasons, but may be more active in the field and at the plate this year. Sophomore Brent Norkus (Batavia, Illinois), who red-shirted last season, is also ready to step into a starting role.

The Trolls have a total of 54 games on their schedule. They are scheduled to open on February 15 in two double-headers with Madonna University. Including those games the team has a 13 non-conference games on their schedule before they go to Florida over spring break in the first week of March. In Florida the team will play in four double-headers in the RussMatt Invitational. Other non-conference games include a double-header with Lincoln Christian on March 14 and a single game with NCAA II Northern Illinois University on April 17.

The conference schedule consists of 30 games in which the Trolls play every conference team in a single game and a double-header. Trinity opens their CCAC schedule on March 15 at Robert Morris University. In the preseason conference rankings the Trolls were picked No. 2 behind Judson University. Also among the top teams are Robert Morris, University of St. Francis, and Saint Xavier. The final conference match-up is schedule for April 30 and the Trolls will look to defend their conference tournament title in the post-season play that begins on May 3.