Heading into the baseball playoffs under the radar last spring was a perfect fit for Belleville West, which stunned O’Fallon in the regional semifinals and then knocked off Belleville East to win the regional championship.
“I don’t think people will take us lightly,” said new Maroons coach Todd Baltz, who replaced longtime West coach Lee Meyer. “We surprised people last year. We certainly aren’t at the at top of everbody’s radar this year, but that’s a good position to be in. In our conference you can’t take anybody lightly.”
Including Belleville West, which reached the sectional last spring despite finishing 18-17 overall and 5-9 in the SWC.
Only three starters return in senior pitcher-shortstop Matt Klosterman, senior second baseman Spencer Piquard and senior catcher Jacob Wilson.
“They got a lot of innings and they were major parts of the team last year, so that’s a plus,” said Baltz, whose team opens the season Friday with a doubleheader at Parkway South in St. Louis. “They know what it takes. We finished pretty strong and ended up winning the regional, so hopefully they build off of those experiences.”
Piquard was the team’s top hitter last spring with a .391 average, three doubles and 12 RBIs.
Klosterman (.327, five doubles, 11 RBIs) is expected to fill the top of the pitching rotation spot held previously by Parker Beine, now at Jefferson College. Klosterman, headed to Robert Morris University as a football kicker, was 1-3 on the mound last spring with a 1.85 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 34 innings.
Wilson (.250, team-leading 11 doubles and 21 RBIs), who signed with Southwestern Illinois College, returns at catcher and could also see time on the mound.
“He’s changed his approach at the plate a little bit, he’s not so jumpy and pull-happy,” Baltz said. “He’s spraying the ball around and using the whole field. It’s kind of unorthodox to have your catcher be your closer, but he’s expressed some interest in that. He’s got probably the best arm on the team.”
Baltz said a strong junior class could lead to better things this season.
“Our season really could be defined by those guys,” Baltz said. “If they step up and fill those roles and vacancies, that’s going to be a major thing for us.”
The infield includes junior Wyatt Parker at first, Piquard and senior Destin Wilson at second, Klosterman and junior Cal Kossina (.375, six RBIs) at short and a combination of junior Nick Oglesby and senior Luke Glaeser at third.
Baltz said Kossina, younger brother of former Maroons and McKendree standout Tony Kossina, is an intriguing possibility since he can play several positions.
“He’s a guy we’re going to count on to step and fill some holes for the seniors that graduated last year,” Baltz said. “He’s athletic enough so we can move him around; he can catch, play the outfield, play short, he can even pitch. He should be right in the middle of our order, we’re counting on him for big things.”
Glaeser played boys volleyball the past three years, but also was playing Junior Legion baseball with the Belleville Hilgards. Baltz said he could be a potential power source.
Sophomore Jack Lanxon is being counted on to take over the leadoff spot as well as center field. He made a similar transition in football, where he was a standout in the defensive backfield.
“He’s got a really good swing and does a lot of things well,” Baltz said. “We’re going to throw him in there and see where he fits in.”
The outfield also includes senior Andrew Konya (.333) and junior Nick Foster in left and junior Austin Guetterman in right. Sophomore Luke Vallandingham could see time as a pitcher and outfielder.
The pitching staff includes Klosterman, Parker (1-0), senior Jacob Eccher (1-2, 2.92 ERA), Kossina, Glaeser and the left-handed Lanxon along with senior Jordan Krug.
“We do a lot of things well,” Baltz said. “We don’t have the headliner that everybody’s after, we’re just a good group of baseball players that are going to do things the right way.”