COAL CITY – Coming off a year in which they set the school record for wins, the 2019 edition of the Coal City Coalers baseball team has lofty expectations.
The 2018 Coalers set a school record in wins on their way to a 34-6 record, a 14-2 record in the Interstate 8 Conference and a conference title, and after both regional and sectional titles, the Coalers came up just one run short of making a state tournament appearance.
Gone are All-Conference players Blake Harseim and Beau Wills, both of whom have moved on to play in college at Heartland Community College and Concordia University, respectively. Coal City graduated six senior starters from 2018, but the cupboard is far from bare.
The 2019 team should be solid defensively, but the strength of the team will be pitching and an improved offense. Though most of the infield has moved on, a talented group looks to step in and take over in the dirt.
Junior Jack Bunton looks to see a majority of time at shortstop, senior Mickey McDowell, juniors Austin Pullara and Cade Mueller, and senior Drew Moir will all see time at second and third base, while juniors Tyson Spencer, Mason Mulcahy, Joey Youskevtch, and Tyson Elliot will add infield depth. Juniors Payton Hutchings, Cameron Lander and Gavin Elrod all could see time at first base.
The outfield features returning All Conference players Keegan Gagliardo (senior) and Hutchings. Connor Best, Danny Caruso, Daniel Jezik, Ethan Wendler, and Moir, Spencer, Elliot, and Mulcahy will all see outfield time. Austin Pullara and Cade Mueller will handle most of the catching duties with help from Elrod and Caruso.
Pitching should also be a strength of the team. Coal City graduated three top arms in Harseim, Wills and lefty Justin Dabulskis, but return their top two starters from 2018. The staff is led by junior left-handed standout, University of Illinois commit and 2018 Morris Herald-News Player of the Year Payton Hutchings. Hutchings, who went 8-2 with a 1.40 ERA and 128 strikeouts against just 17 walks in 65 innings last season, will be joined by returning senior lefty and Lincoln Trail commit Gagliardo, who was 8-1 with a 1.32 ERA last season.
Hard-throwing junior Connor Best will look to grab a spot in the starting rotation, while Spencer, Lander, Bunton, and Wendler will be counted on to throw big innings, and Pullara and Mueller will add depth to the staff.
The Coalers will have no shortage of competition on the schedule, head coach Greg Wills said.
“Manteno and Herscher are always strong programs in the I-8,” Wills said. “Streator and Lisle will also be good, and Wilmington will have a roster full of good athletes. Reed-Custer will always be a tough game. They have a great baseball tradition over there in Braidwood and always seem to have some exceptional players. Morris will have a solid team again this year and Coach [Todd] Kein and [Coal City graduate Matt] Blaine do such a great job over there. Otherwise we have games with reigning 4A state champs Plainfield North, as well as dates with perennial powers Joliet Catholic, Plainfield East, Minooka, Bloomington, Bradley-Bourbonnais, Yorkville and Joliet West; all very strong programs.
“Baseball in our area is always so strong, so many great teams, players, and coaches. We think we can be very competitive throughout the season with any team on our schedule. We certainly look forward to the challenge.”