ROCKFORD, Ill. - The Rockford University baseball team is poised to make another run at a NACC Tournament berth this year after missing out last season based off tie-breakers. With a large number of returners, and a promising group of newcomers, Rockford appears primed and ready for a successful 2019 campaign.
Rockford will call upon a strong group of returners in the corner infield positions and behind the plate. Leading the pack is senior Brett Down (Princeville, Ill.), who will be relied upon heavily to anchor the offense. Down led the team last year in runs scored (36), doubles (16) and triples (3). Kyle Waugh (Waseca, Minn.) will open the year at first base after seeing significant time there last season. Waugh led the Regents in multiple offensive categories last year including batting average (.337) and home runs (3), including a grand slam. Taking over the reins behind the plate is catcher Christian Garcia (Maricopa, Ariz.). Garcia saw limited action last year and will be a key piece to the success of the club this year. Returners Bryson Wallace (Rockford, Ill.) and Payton Clouse (Shannon, Ill.) along with transfer Dylan Johnson (Rockford, Ill.) will help provide added depth.
The middle infield will be a combination of both returners and transfers. Jacob Rillamas (Yuma, Ariz.) returns to the fold this year, transitioning to shortstop after playing much of last season at second. Battling for time at shortstop will also be transfer Troy Tucci (Wood Dale, Ill.). Tucci joins RU after spending time at Harper College and can play middle infield as well as add depth in the outfield. Filling Rillamas' void at second from last year will be another battle between returner Cristian Bermeo (Chicago, Ill.) and Heartland Community College transfer Hunter Fiorito (Batavia, Ill.).
The Regents also appear strong in the outfield with a nice mix of returners and newcomers. Anchoring the group in center field will be Corey Saracco (Montgomery, Ill.). Saracco will be key to jump-starting the Regent offensive attack. The junior finished last season with a .298 average and led the team with 11 stolen bases compared to just one caught stealing. Another player who will have an expanded role in the 2019 season is Michael Gunter (Maricopa, Ariz.), who will open the season in right field. Transfer Logan Streit (Harvard, Ill.) will look to make an immediate impact for the Regents taking over in left field, while also seeing some time on the mound throughout the year. Junior Jacob Toepfer (Rockford, Ill.) adds experience in the outfield entering his third season in a Regent uniform. Freshman Iszak Mestas (Burbank, Ill.) will help bolster the outfield providing some additional depth in his first year at Rockford.
The Regents return nearly their entire pitching staff from last year, highlighted by junior ace and Second Team All-NACC performer, Zachary Jones (Rockford, Ill.). Jones led the Regents and was in the top-10 in the NACC in nearly every major statistical category. The right-hander finished the year with a 7-1 record, which is the second most wins in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was just one win shy of tying the Rockford University single-season wins record. Jones also finished third in the NACC in strikeouts per nine innings (10.33), fifth in earned run average amongst pitchers with at least eight starts (2.67), sixth in strikeouts (62) and ninth in innings pitched (54.0). Rounding out the starting rotation will be Joseph Kmiec (Bolingbrook, Ill.), Joseph Valdez (Tucson, Ariz.) Logan Streit and Christian Pearcy (Tucson, Ariz.). Kmiec and Valdez each saw time on the mound last year, while Pearcy rejoins the team after a year off and looks to make an immediate impact. Coming out of the bullpen for Rockford will be a mixture of returners and newcomers. Clay Goodwin (St. Francisville, Ill.), Doug Murphey (Fox Lake, Ill.), Jake Schmollinger (Peru, Ill.) and Kerrick Jones (Spring Grove, Ill.) headline the group of returners, while transfer Erick Hall (Roscoe, Ill.) and freshman Casey Seeley (Lockport, Ill.) lead the group of fresh faces.
"I am very excited about the amount of talent we have on this year's team," proclaimed head coach Bob Koopmann. "The guys have put in the time and worked hard in the offseason to be successful on the field."
The Rockford University baseball team will open its season on Saturday, March 9 in Fort Myers, Florida. The Regents open with Thiel College at noon local time followed by Plymouth State.