A couple of years ago, a change made to the bat used in high school baseball transformed the game. No longer were 17-15 scores commonplace.
In the Joliet area, strong-armed pitchers seem intent on taking the game to the opposite extreme. That much is evidenced by the Herald-News All-Area Baseball Team.
As you can see if you peruse the first-team capsules that are in this section, pitchers were the best players on many of the best area teams. The priority of nominations that came from area coaches reflected that.
In fact, on our 18-player first team, seven are selected as pitchers. Five others could and probably would have been on the team because of their prowess at the plate and in the field, but it didn't hurt their chances that they also were excellent on the mound.
The remaining six, making the first team solely as position players, are Joliet West junior shortstop Cody Grosse, Providence right fielder Phil Kunsa, Lemont catcher Mike Papierski, Minooka shortstop Neal Tyrell, Plainfield East third baseman Jovany Urbieta and Lemont shortstop Mike Wisz.
The dual threats, as hitters and pitchers, are Joliet Catholic junior center fielder Nick Dalesandro, Lincoln-Way West shortstop Luke Morgan, Providence first baseman/third baseman Dylan Rosa, Plainfield North junior outfielder Kyle Strepek and Joliet West center fielder Zack Thomas.
After the display of clutch hitting and pitching that he put on in Providence's run to the Class 4A state championship, Rosa is our Player of the Year. He is one of two Celtics on the first team, joining Kunsa.
The other state champion from the area, Lemont, which won 3A, is the leader with four first-team selections. In addition to Papierski and Wisz, the dynamic left-handed pitching duo of Jake Latz and Charlie Wright are on the team. With those four seniors leading the way, the Indians rightfully were ranked as the postseason No. 1 team in the state by multiple publications.
Latz had such a dominant season that he was named Prep Baseball Report's Player of the Year. He certainly was a candidate for that honor on the Herald-News team, as were Morgan and a few others. That was, until Rosa's never-again, three-week postseason splash occurred.
Others on the first team as pitchers are Lincoln-Way Central's Brad Bass, Joliet Catholic sophomore Drake Fellows, Lockport's Mike Formella, Plainfield South's Trevor Henderson and Minooka's Mitch Vogrin. Fellows is the only sophomore on the team, and Grosse, Dalesandro and Strepek represent the junior class. The rest are seniors.
Latz, Papierski and Bass were selected in the major league free-agent draft in June. Latz and Papierski, both of whom will play at LSU, were taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 11th and 16th rounds, respectively. Bass, who will pitch at Notre Dame, was the Cubs' 33rd-round pick.
Barring injury, Dalesandro is almost a certain draft pick next season, and the same would go for Fellows in 2016. All other first-team seniors will continue their careers at NCAA Division I schools or at strong programs on other levels.
When you read the capsules on the first-team selections, you will get a good idea why each of them was chosen.
But also take a look at the second team and the honorable mention list. Many on the second team, in the least, could have been on the first team and there probably would not be an argument. This area, as usual, was that deep in talent.
Covering the action all season long was a treat. In a season where our area has two state champions, it is even better.
Congratulations to one and all who were mentioned somewhere on our all-area team.