05/28/2015 11:09 AM -
After months of waiting, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen are set to take the diamond for the first time since the 2014 season ended abruptly with back-to-back losses in a first-round playoff series against the DuPage County Hounds.
When the Oilmen hit the field on Sunday in Joliet, they’ll do so with a new-look roster and a first-year manager at the helm. Munster graduate Adam Enright is set to guide the team after serving as an assistant the last three seasons.
The roster features more local talent than ever before, with 15 players hailing from the state of Indiana, 10 coming from Illinois and one from California. It’s a diverse group of Oilmen, with all levels of collegiate baseball (Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA and JUCO) represented.
Enright believes a roster loaded with players who saw significant game action during the spring at their respective colleges will help the Oilmen improve upon last season.
“Last year we had a very talented group, but they were still trying to figure some things out at the college level because not all of those guys got to play every day at their schools,” he said. “They were guys who were young and trying things out. We had some late-inning situations last year where the pressure overwhelmed us.”
The Starting Staff
A year ago, starting pitching was the strength of the team as the Oilmen boasted one of the top rotations in the league. The challenge for this season is repeating that success on the mound.
Keith Mahler (Heartland Community College / Cumberland / Highland, Ind.) is one of two returning players on this year’s roster. He went 7-1 with a 4.02 ERA for the Hawks this spring and will continue his collegiate career for NAIA power Cumberland next year. Mahler made the MCL All-Star team in 2015 by posting a dazzling 2.06 ERA.
Evansville’s Brian Jestice (Hoffman Estates, Ill.) and Minnesota State Mankato’s Christian Howell (Aurora, Ill.) will likely receive spots in the starting rotation. Jestice worked mostly in relief for the Aces this year, compiling a 2.96 ERA in 16 games. Howell notched six wins for the Mavericks while posting a 4.67 ERA.
Brandon Barnes (Paradise Valley / Hobart, Ind.), Josh Van Beek (Wabash Valley / IPFW / St. John, Ind.) and recently added Tyler Loesher (Kishwaukee / Woodstock, Ill.) are all in the mix to start games.
Many departed Oilmen from the 2014 season left big shoes to fill, but perhaps none larger than all-time Midwest Collegiate League saves king Matt Pobereyko. While Enright has yet to officially determine the powerful right-hander’s successor, Calumet College’s Enrique Zamora (Hammond, Ind.) could be the top candidate, if the Oilmen do not use him in a starting role. Zamora went 4-5 with a 3.81 ERA for the Crimson Wave.
“Every time out, the guy was nails,” Enright said. “The guy got everybody out. You’ve got a guy with an upper 80s fastball and a good off-speed pitch, and that’s a very Matt Pobereykoish makeup. I’m excited to see what role he fits best for us.”
Christian Sullivan (Franklin College / Schererville, Ind.) and Jimmy Skiff (Purdue Calumet / Dyer, Ind.) both started games for their respective colleges, and can be used for spot starts as needed. Matt Dvorscak (Shawnee State / Whiting, Ind.), Hunter Clark (Eastern Illinois / Granger, Ind.) and Richard Yelnick (Parkland / New Lenox, Ill.) will also work out of the Oilmen bullpen.
Northwest Indiana’s outfield is again loaded with talent as Alec Olund (Purdue / Schererville, Ind.), Tyler Sroczynski (Wabash Valley / Dyer, Ind.), Donovan Chandler (Parkland / Schererville, Ind.), Jordan Lewis (Purdue / Escondido, Calif.) and Xavier Warren (Parkland / Granville, Ill.) and Fred Smart (Siena College / Evanston, Ill.) are all set to suit up.
“There’s a whole lot to get excited about,” Enright said. “Some of the junior college guys are going to be exciting, because they’re in a transition period where they’re trying to prove themselves and transition to a four-year school. Everyone has their own piece to the puzzle.”
Smart also has the ability to play first base, while Olund could see time at second base.
Former Southland Vikings star Stefano Belmonte (Munster, Ind.) is expected to see regular playing time at third base. He batted .328 and clubbed four home runs while racking up 30 RBIs as a member of the league-champion Vikings in 2014, and followed that up with a .354 average and 48 RBIs as a redshirt sophomore at South Suburban.
Belmonte’s South Suburban teammates Jeremy Wright (Munster, Ind.) and Brian Seymour (Lansing, Ill.) join him on the Oilmen infield. Sam Geraci (Parkland / Steger, Ill.) and Brad Wood (Northern Illinois / Orland Park, Ill.) are also in the mix. Wood received immediate Division I playing time for the Huskies, batting .281 and driving in 26 runs.
The Catching Corps
Zack Jones (Trinity Christian / Park Forest,, Ill.) is the lone returning position player for Northwest Indiana. He was second on the Trolls with a .353 average this spring.
“Zack has been outstanding in the middle of our lineup at Trinity,” Enright said. “With runners in scoring position, he’s a guy that we want up.”
Joe Jumonville has played regularly as a freshman at NIU, while Josh Turnock received limited duty at Eastern Illinois but projects as a quality offense player.
Inside the Dugout
As Enright awaits Opening Day on Sunday in Joliet and the home opener on June 10 at Oil City Stadium, there is a sense of nervous anticipation.
“It’ll be great,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a little bit of nerves. The hardest part about this job is making sure you put a team together that’s going to compete every day and give you a really good chance to win. I feel like we’ve done that. It’ll be fun to see how things go.”