Mark Skonieczny shines as Huntley’s Mr. Hustle

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Watching Mark Skonieczny at his best is like watching a linebacker in baseball cleats.

Rarely does the Huntley standout make it through a game without accumulating some significant stains of grass or dirt on his uniform. Laying out to make a catch and diving headfirst on the basepaths are the norm for Skonieczny, who at 6-foot and 205 pounds plays with a reckless abandon.

“Mark is a grinder and a guy who would run through a brick wall for you,” Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski said. “He plays baseball like a football player. He just gets after it and excels in every area.”

Using a blend of power, speed and smarts, Skonieczny put together a monster junior season this spring. The Illinois recruit was the top offensive producer for the Red Raiders, which is saying something on a team that averaged a ridiculous 8.7 runs per game and had two other NCAA Division I recruits in the batting order.

Skonieczny finished with team highs in batting average (.432), home runs (seven), RBI (36) and runs scored (43). He also contributed 12 stolen bases, 11 doubles and solid defense at catcher and in right field, all of which helped lead to his selection as the 2013 Courier-News Player of the Year.

“I always play the game of baseball with a pedal-to-the-metal mentality,” Skonieczny said. “I always give it 100 percent on every play because you never know when that bell could ring and you could never play again.

“It’s kind of just instinct to sacrifice my body to make a play. When I see I’ve got a chance to get to the ball, I’ll do anything to get there.”

Skonieczny says his biggest baseball influence is his father Mike Skonieczny, who was his coach in Huntley’s youth baseball leagues. He continues to be a willing thrower of batting practice and a source of advice.

Practice certainly made perfect this season for Mark Skonieczny, a two-year varsity performer who thrived from the No. 2 spot in the Red Raiders’ order between Louisville recruit Colin Lyman in the leadoff spot and Nebraska recruit Bryce Only in the No. 3 hole.

Together, the fearsome trio helped Huntley win its first 13 games of the season and capture a share of the Fox Valley Valley championship before ending the campaign with a 25-7 record after a shocking loss to Dundee-Crown in the championship game of the Class 4A DeKalb Regional.

Along the way, Skonieczny put together a .465 on-base percentage and a .720 slugging percentage, which amounted to a staggering 1.185 OPS for the All-FVC Valley selection.

“The guy’s work ethic is incredible with the number of swings he takes in the offseason and on his own,” Jakubowski said. “He’s basically a self-made player. He’s getting all these accolades based upon everything that he’s worked hard for.”

Skonieczny put his brawn to use on the football field last fall as a linebacker for Huntley’s Class 7A state playoff qualifying team, but he plans to focus on baseball this year and play for the Cincinnati Reds scout team in the fall.

This summer, Skonieczny is playing with the Pro Player 17U travel team and hoping to improve his skills for next spring and beyond.

“I’d like to increase my batting average by another 100 points like I did from my sophomore year to my junior year,” Skonieczny said. “I’d also like to sharpen up my defense and other mental parts of the game.”

Lost in Skonieczny’s offensive exploits is his status as a solid defensive catcher. He boasts a 1.93 pop time, which measures how long it takes a catcher to get the ball from his glove to second base after a pitch.

This season Skonieczny split time behind the plate with senior Tyler Mindak, playing in right field on the days when Mindak was catching. Jakubowski thinks the experience will pay off for Skonieczny down the road.

“That is going to make him more marketable at Illinois just because he’s not going to be able to catch both games of a doubleheader,” Jakubowski said. “Because he also plays the outfield very well, it will make it easier to keep his bat in the lineup.”

Of course, Skonieczny could have a tough decision to make at this time next year should he be selected in the MLB Draft and have to pick between going pro or playing in college.

What is certain is Skonieczny will be the most high-profile hitter in the lineup for the Red Raiders next spring. He looks forward to the challenge and the opportunity to make amends for this year’s postseason disappointment.

“Losing this year in an upset like that, it made a lot of the junior players, including myself, very hungry,” Skonieczny said. “Hopefully we can come back strong, win the conference again and be a threat in the playoffs.”

PLAYER OF THE YEAR HONOR ROLL

1981 – Dan Gallagher, CL South

1982-85 – No teams selected

1986 – Dan Wilson, Barrington

1987 – Dan Wilson, Barrington

1988 – Steve Hinton, Elgin;Cory Tasche, Burlington Central

1989 – Joel Bosman, Woodstock

1990 – Joel Bosman, Woodstock

1991 – Chad Schroeder, Larkin

1992 – Steve Beard, Woodstock

1993 – Ryan Sienko, Larkin

1994 – Cory Lusk, Dundee-Crown

1995 – Brett Herbison, Burlington Central

1996 – Dave Kot, St. Charles

1997 – Brian Smith, Larkin

1998 – Matt Krabbe, Larkin

1999 – Jim Caine, St. Charles;Jason Richardson, Larkin

2000 – Ryan McKenna, Larkin

2001 – Jason McMillan, Dundee-Crown

2002 – Tod Moore, St. Charles East

2003 – Alex Turk, Burlington Central

2004 – Doug Sanders, St. Edward

2005 – Kenny Smalley, St. Charles North

2006 – Kevin Steinhaus, Dundee-Crown

2007 – Elliot Soto, Dundee-Crown

2008 – Ben Palmer, Westminster Christian

2009 – Brian Brauer, Streamwood

2010 – Austin Jarvis, Burlington Central

2011 – Ryan Perez, Westminster Christian

2012 – Tanner Scott, Burlington Central

2013 – Mark Skonieczny, Huntley

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