Winning 27 games and getting all the way to the doorstep of a second trip to Joliet in the last three years, everything in 2012 went as usual for Naperville Central in the midst of making a coaching change.
Now as Mike Stock, who established a program record for wins by a first-year coach with those 27 victories, enters his second year at the helm of the program, what will Naperville Central do for an encore?
With eight seniors returning who have all experienced heavy playing time, the table is set for the Redhawks to do what has been their custom in recent vintage: damage.
“We still have a few questions, but we do have a lot of kids coming back with playing experience and playing in tight games or experience playing in tight games,” Stock said.
The names rattle off like a bag of riches: Brian Schiemann, Jim Nashert, Cody Campbell, Jeff Schank, Nick Lopez, Blake Butler and Jeff Lucas.
“Experience does a lot for kids this age, so I think the kids coming back who had played well last year in big games, hopefully that pays off for them,” Stock said.
Campbell, Nashert and Schank are all back to lead a staff that includes even more options than the Redhawks had last year, given the infusion of a deep junior class.
Campbell, who enrolled before his junior year from Lake Orion, Mich. and has committed to Minnesota, will likely get the first crack at replacing Ian Lewandowski, now at the University of Illinois-Chicago, atop the rotation.
Possessing probably the most live arm on the team, Campbell went 4-3 with a 3.19 ERA in 41 2/3 innings of work as a junior but admitted after committing to Minnesota in August that he was “embarrassed” by his record.
“Cody’s a gifted athlete. He can do things you can’t teach and he likes to work hard,” Stock said. “That’s a nice combination. But like all the kids, it’s to be determined. Opportunities have presented itself for many of these kids and they gotta step up and (produce).”
Meanwhile, the team’s two other senior stalwarts on the mound, Nashert and Schank, combined to go 12-2 with a 1.19 ERA on the year in 94 1/3 combined innings as juniors in 2012.
Schiemann, a three-year varsity player behind the plate, was an unanimous all-DuPage Valley Conference pick in hitting .270 and knocking in 23 runs to place second on the team.
Nashert and the Creighton-bound Lopez hit .375 and .270, respectively, anchoring the top of the Redhawks’ lineup last year.
“We’re excited. We’ve got a bunch of kids who’ve worked hard this summer. They’ve worked on their own this winter,” Stock said. “We’ve got some kids we think can swing the bat. But a lot of teams in the area do. We’re very athletic. Running the bases is something I think we can do as well as we’ve ever done then I can remember at Central at the varsity level.
“We hope to put pressure on our opponents because we’re gonna see good pitching. We’ll see it pre-conference. The conference is gonna be solid and in this area, we always know (in the) postseason, you’re gonna see good pitching, no matter who you draw.”
Finishing second to Wheaton North in the DVC for a second straight year, losing 6-3 to Minooka last June one step shy of the Class 4A state semifinals and bowing out of the IHSBCA Phil Lawler Summer Classic as a top seed with a loss to Montini last July all offer motivation at different levels for those returning.
But like his predecessor, Bill Seiple, Stock wants to take things one step at a time. He also knows that DVC crowns were in play in each of the last two years and that his team wants to do what it can to try and rectify that in 2013.
“That’s something that we want to attack,” he said of winning the DVC. “Our preseason is about competing against good competition, get some questions answered. Our most successful teams at Naperville Central have won conference championships. That’s something we take seriously. It’s something that we fell short on by a game last year. That’s part of the challenge we want to attack.
“I think we’ve got a chance, but right now, everything is to be determined.”