MINOOKA — There’s an old saying that’s thrown around in baseball a lot: “Good pitching always wins in the postseason.”
While some people may choose to disagree with that statement, they’d have a hard time defending it in the case of last year’s Minooka Indians’ baseball team, as they rode their top guys of Josh Jimenez and Kevin Ruff all the way to the IHSA Class 4A state semi-finals.
Jimenez started out every round of the postseason strong, getting wins in the both the regional and sectional semi-finals, as well as the Super-Sectional to get the Indians down to state. Ruff was equally as good, as he cliched both the regional and sectional titles with masterful performances, including a perfect game against O’Fallon in the sectional title game.
Unfortunately for the Indians, both of those guys are gone this year, leaving the top two spots in the rotation to be filled by the remaining players from last year.
The leading candidate to take over the top spot on the rotation is junior Mitch Vogrin, who will be competing in his first full varsity season. Vogrin has been brought up the past two years, including most of the season last year. As the third starter/first reliever for Minooka, Vogrin did not give up an earned run, which is why he seems like the right fit to take over the spot of Jimenez as the ace of the Indians staff.
“I feel a lot better than I did last season. I’ve been able to get more workout time in the offseason this year than last,” Vogrin said. “If I just go out there and play the game I love, it shouldn’t be too hard to fill the role of those guys. I know it’s big shoes to fill, and I’m going to do my best to fill those.”
“Mitch is a very talented kid. We’ve seen enough of him the past two seasons to know that he’s going to be a really good varsity pitcher for us,” Minooka coach Jeff Petrovic said. “The best thing about Mitch is his competitiveness. He’s a ‘give it all you got, all the time’ type of player. He wants to win just as much as anybody.”
The other guy the Indians see as a big piece in their starting rotation is senior Josh Mitchell, who is signed to play baseball at Morehead State next year. Just how Jimenez was, Mitchell is left-handed, giving him a bigger advantage with guys on base. Although he didn’t see as much time last year, Mitchell is ready to become an everyday fixture for the Indians.
“There’s no pressure at all on me,” Mitchell said. “I’m just hoping to go out there and have a good senior year and definitely help our team. Vogrin is experienced, I’m experienced. We have a deep staff, so we’ll be fine.”
As Mitchell eluded, the Indians pitching staff is very deep this year, as a plethora of guys will have the chance to impress both Petrovic and pitching coach Jim Lamping.
One of those guys that might step up and be that third starter is Steve Szymanski, who was mostly in a closer-type role last year for the Indians coming out of the bullpen. Although his stuff doesn’t look flashy, the senior has impressed the coaching staff enough where they are now considering him to take that third spot in the rotation.
“We still haven’t made a for-sure determination of where he fits on our team yet. I know that Steve is going to help us wherever we put him,” Petrovic said. “He was one of those nice pleasant surprises that we had last year that make a difference in a team, and he really did make a big difference for us.
“He comes in, he throws strikes, he mixes guys up, and he doesn’t get himself in trouble. We certainly have to look at him as a possible starter since he was so good last season.”
Although the losses of Jimenez and Ruff are big, the Indians feel that they’re depth at pitching will go a long way of replacing their two aces from last season.
“We really have two good top-end guys in our rotation,” Petrovic said. “Not only is Mitch a really good pitcher and he’s getting a lot of college offers, but Josh is also going to play Division I next year as well. So pitching is something that we really like this year. Not only do we have our two top-end guys, but we have a lot of depth. So we definitely think pitching will be one of our strengths this season.”