Sports

Baseball preview: Huntley's Mark Skonieczny full-time catcher

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Mark Skonieczny possesses skills that offered Huntley’s baseball team some versatility the past two seasons.

Skonieczny will be staying at home this spring – literally.

The Illinois signee split time between catcher and right field the past two seasons, but he will stay behind the plate most of this spring. Skonieczny has been a highly productive hitter for the Red Raiders, who expect him to make a significant impact defensively, as well.

Skonieczny and Huntley should be one of the central storylines for the upcoming baseball season, which is off to a ragged start because of the cold weather and heavy snow from the winter.

Here are a few of the things to look for this season:

Full-time job

Skonieczny likes that he will be in control as the Raiders' catcher.

“That’s my favorite position; that’s where I want to be,” Skonieczny said. “It’s where I feel more comfortable playing. It’s where I’m able to control the game and have the most authority.”

Skonieczny had enough speed to play the outfield, so Raiders coach Andy Jakubowski had him split time with Tyler Mindak at catcher last season. Skonieczny helped the Raiders tie with Crystal Lake South for the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title.

“[Skonieczny] is outstanding defensively, blocking balls and stopping the running game,” Jakubowski said. “Offensively, hitting in the middle of our order and driving in runs and hitting balls in the gap really helps us.”

At Illinois, Skonieczny will catch but also may play some outfield.

“It’s made him more marketable,” Jakubowski said. “In second games of doubleheaders, instead of sitting out, he may be able to go and play the outfield and play both ends. He’s excellent in both spots.”

In the Valley

With Skonieczny and shortstop Matt Sullivan leading the way, Huntley again is considered a favorite in the Valley. A strong lineup and deep pitching should help the Raiders in their quest to repeat.

“I think this is the hardest-working team we’ve had since the 2010 [Class 4A] state [fourth-place] team,” Skonieczny said. “We’re fundamentally sound on defense and our pitching staff is very strong.”

South shared the Valley championship with Prairie Ridge in 2012 and with Huntley last season. The Gators could be a factor again with several top returning players and pitcher Josh Smith, who missed last season recovering from shoulder surgery.

Jacobs finished sixth last season but wound up losing in the Class 4A Rockford Supersectional to St. Charles East. The Golden Eagles have Reilly Peltier and Ryan Sargent back at the top of their rotation and should be a factor.

Crummy weather

No one seems certain when teams will be able to start playing on their home fields because of the harsh, cold winter. It’s likely that many of the spring-break games this week will be postponed or canceled, although some teams have found fields with artificial turf infields where they can play.

What’s happening in the BNC East?

Richmond-Burton and Burlington Central usually fight it out for the division title, so until another team serves notice, expect those Rockets to be near the top.

Keep an eye on Marengo, which has made strides the past two seasons and may have the pitching to take another step. At least, Indians coach Josh Mass wants his team thinking that way this spring.

FVC Fox contenders?

Johnsburg and Woodstock could be ready to make moves in the FVC Fox Division.

Johnsburg is led by shortstop Collin Ridout and third baseman Kevin Kordik, both of whom also pitch. The Skyhawks have talent and experience.

Likewise, Woodstock could make a move up in the standings with pitcher Alex Ferguson and juniors Austin Butts and Eric Bell. The Blue Streaks will rely on a lot of juniors, but they may have the talent to make a nice jump.

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