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SAURDAY SENTINEL: A school year of tough decisions

There are plenty of great reasons that the 2012-13 school year in local prep sports is likely to remain very memorable many years from now.

Minooka had the 2013 Class 4A softball state champion, a state-champion 4x400 boys relay team and state-qualifying teams in cross country, wrestling and boys volleyball. Morris played in the Class 5A football state championship. I know I won’t soon forget the regional games between Coal City and Morris in boys basketball and baseball, Seneca’s run to a girls volleyball sectional final or the greatest softball postseason in Gardner-South Wilmington history.

I will, however, also remember the 2012-13 school year for another reason. Never have I faced so many truly difficult decisions when selecting Morris Daily Herald Players of the Year. That’s more a testament to the number of great candidates we’ve had than a knock on those chosen ... but it’s not been a year where a John Dergo or a Kirsten Verdun made these decisions no-brainers.

It started in the fall, when there were really four very legitimate candidates to snag our girls volleyball honor. I went with Kendall Korte of Morris, but it was hard to separate Korte from her own teammate, Katie Chatten, or from Minooka’s Skyler Day or Coal City’s Emily Halliday. And calling it a four-player race means two outstanding hitters from Seneca, Aspen Stuedemann and Nicole Pihl, are excluded.

In boys basketball, both Darrin Myers and Jake Hogen from Minooka got some consideration, but I really ended up torn between eventual winner Nick Peters of Coal City and Ben Ortiz of Morris. Really, the tipping point was that an illness cost Ortiz a few games during the season, and Peters and the Coalers beat Ortiz and the Redskins in the regional round. Even so, it was probably the toughest Player of the Year pick I’ve ever had to make.

At least it was until I had to choose our baseball Player of the Year during the past few weeks. I went with Morris catcher Jake Capko, but strong cases could have (and were) built for at least two others.

One was a teammate of Capko, and a guy I don’t think has gotten enough credit as I’ve seen some of the All-Area lists put together by other papers. Preston Miracle went 6-1 with a 1.35 ERA and struck out 67 in 51 1/3 innings for a team that had a banged-up pitching staff. He was also the Redskins’ No. 3 hitter, at least at the end of the season, hitting .358 with seven doubles.

Capko won out because the outstanding defense he played game in and game out at a position as important as catcher may have been as important to the Redskins from a run prevention standpoint as Miracle’s pitching. When Miracle didn’t pitch, he was usually a designated hitter, so he wasn’t offering alternative defensive value. And while Miracle hit well, Capko had the clearly superior offensive numbers.

I asked Morris coach Todd Kein if he could recall having a catcher that made the kind of impact Capko did this season.

“It would be tough to go back and think of one,” Kein said. “Going back to the injuries that we did sustain, Jake had a big part in keeping us at ground level. He reeled some of those spot starters that were thrown into a short notice situation. Jake being behind the plate had the effect of making anybody we did have out on the mound look good. Not to discredit anybody that threw for us, but our pitchers would feel more confident when they were throwing to a guy like Jake.”

The other true candidate in baseball was Max Brozovich of Minooka. Statistically, he was the best offensive player in the area. His “problem” is that he played first base. While he did so, by all accounts, at least passably, I thought the defensive value Capko added by playing catcher so well was enough to offset the slightly superior season Brozovich had at the plate.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other conundrum I faced recently. Our boys track and field Performer of the Year very clearly had to go to someone from Minooka, which was among the best 3A teams in the state.

The problem is that the Indians are a team with a large number of standout performers instead of one following a stars-and-scrubs model. They had no individual state medalists but one state champion relay team, so I’m naming all four 4x400 runners our Performers of the Year, following a precedent that was set two years ago when the Indians’ 4x800 team was so honored. Look for the story early next week.

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