PALATINE, Ill. – The Harper College baseball team came within one win of reaching the NJCAA Div. III World Series in 2013, and this year the Hawks are hungry to reach their desired destination in Tyler, Texas. With a strong core group of returners and an influx of new talent, Harper appears ready to reach its first World Series in program history.
After weather forced the cancellation of the team's first eight games, the Hawks finally take to the diamond today as they open their spring break trip off with South Suburban College at Vincennes University in Vincennes, Indiana.
The Hawks play Vincennes and DuPage tomorrow, a to-be determined opponent on Sunday and Vincennes again on Monday before heading down to Tennessee to take on Jackson State Community College next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Head coach Cliff Brown's squad returns the likes of shortstop Theo Yfantis (Prospect Heights, Ill./Wheeling), third baseman Kurt Becker (Palatine, Ill./Palatine), center fielder Chris Elliot, utility man James Ioriatti (/Hersey) and pitchers Lee Breitzman (Palatine, Ill./Fremd), Steven Yfantis(Prospect Heights, Ill./Wheeling), Brent Kiesel (Streamwood, Ill./Streamwood) and Jim Gockenbach (North Barrington, Ill./Barrington).
Yfantis, the team's leadoff man who was a Second Team All-Conference and All-Region honoree last year, likes the new group of players and also feels an added responsibility to be a leader.
"They are big energy givers and good athletes," Yfantis said of the new players. "I want to lead this team to a lot of wins and set the standard for next year's sophomores so they can step up."
While the Hawks lost six All-Region or All-Conference players from last year's squad, Yfantis feels good about the 2014 squad.
"I like the family aspect of our team. We are all really close and have each other's backs," he said. "Every day, we are pushing forward and sticking together."
Brown said that his team is just ready to get outside and start getting after it. He explained that this year's squad has the chance to be better than last year's team.
"We're more athletic than we've been, and we have guys who have good baseball sense," Brown said. "We are deeper positional-wise and pitching-wise."
Here is a positional breakdown of this year's team:
Becker and Yfantis will man the left side of the infield for the Hawks. Becker was a Second Team All-Region selection last year who hit .377 with two homers, 14 doubles and 28 RBI. Yfantis hit .356 and led the team in hits (47) and runs (38).
Freshmen Neal Ori (Palatine, Ill./Palatine) and Anthony Beale (Chicago, Ill./Walter Lutheran) will play second base for the Hawks. The competition at first base will be betweenKevin Conrad (Twin Lakes, Wis./Wilmot) and Jeremy Merino (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg). The catching duties fall on freshmen Zach Jones (/Maine South) and Andrew Haney (Milton, Wis. /Milton).
Elliot, who only made two errors last year, will likely be patrolling center field for the Hawks. Ioriatti, who played primarily second base last year, will see some time in the outfield.
Freshmen Tyler Crussen (Wheeler, Ind. /Wheeler), Angelo Curtis (Chicago Heights, Ill./Marian Catholic), Chuck Terron (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek), Matt Hayes, Austin Eliades(Palatine, Ill./Palatine) and Josh Hillmann (Chicago, Ill./St. Patrick) will all battle for playing time in the outfield.
The left-hander Breitzman, who threw a team-high 58.1 innings a year ago, will be a key factor on the mound for Harper. Fellow sophomores Yfantis, who threw 40.2 innings last year for the Hawks, and Kiesel will also be counted on again for innings.
Brown has plenty of right-handed pitchers to rely on, including Dan Schlitter (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett), Mickey Wazorick (Rolling Meadows, Ill./Rolling Meadows), Dave Rzewnicki(Antioch, Ill./Antioch), Eric Orozco (Melrose Park, Ill./Immaculate Conception), Matt Ittersagen (Wheeler, Ind./Wheeler) and Ken Cervenka (/Palatine).
The Hawks boast four other lefties in Gockenbach, Chris Simon (La Grange, Ill./Marmion Academy), Dan Pultorak (Dixon, Ill./Dixon) and Jason Obermaier (Elk Grove Village, Ill./Conant).
Harper opens N4C play on March 30 at home against Milwaukee. They play each conference opponent (Milwaukee, Rock Valley, Joliet, DuPage, Triton and Madison) twice. Madison won the conference in 2013 and took third in the nation at the NJCAA Div. II level.
The Region IV Sectionals will be played May 10 and 11, followed by the Region IV Baseball Finals at Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg from May 16-18. If the Hawks were to win the region championship, they would head to Tyler, Texas for the 2014 NJCAA Div. III Baseball World Series May 24-29.
Resources for the Season