Area Class 1A and 2A baseball teams to watch
No. 1 Tuscola
On paper, it appears the Warriors have a pretty easy road at their own Class 1A regional, with South Piatt as the No. 2 seed and Cerro Gordo as the No. 3. On the mound, Dillon Hoel and Jacob Barr provide a formidable 1-2 punch, and pitching could carry Tuscola with Josh Brookins working his way back into the rotation after an arm injury. Offensively Hoel, T.J. Onstott and Nolan Walsh give the lineup some spark.
No. 2 Rantoul
The Eagles are riding high after winning the Corn Belt Conference tournament title and are the top seed at their own Class 2A regional. Rantoul beat No. 2 seed Bloomington Central Catholic last week in the conference tournament title game and features one of the area's top hurlers in Terry Deaville (0.20 ERA), with Luke Pannbacker and Kyle Flessner also sporting ERAs lower than 2.00. If Cord Church and the offense can manufacture a couple of runs, the Eagles will be all right.
No. 3 Monticello
A lot of teams in the area feature a good pitcher or two, but few compare to the duo the Sages trot to the mound. Southern Illinois-bound Jacob Williams and sophomore Nick Stokowski have been terrorizing opposing hitters for much of the season. The hard-throwing Williams is among the area leaders with 98 strikeouts and Stokowski sports an ERA just above 1.00 for the Sages, who will likely have to get through Stanford Olympia or Clinton to win their own Class 2A regional. It's been 19 years since Monticello last won a regional.
No. 4 Salt Fork
The host Storm will have its hands full in Class 1A with a likely date against Schlarman for a berth in the sectional, but this team can pitch and it can hit. Ross Learnard is the latest in a long line of Learnards to star for Salt Fork and he's got the area's top average at .492. Learnard is also one of three pitchers on the staff with an ERA below 2.00, led by Max Stutsman's 0.68 clip.
No. 5 St. Joseph-Ogden
Unity got the No. 1 seed at its own Class 2A regional, but the second-seeded Spartans are capable of being the team to emerge from Tolono. For starters, SJ-O beat Unity 7-0 last week and got a complete-game shutout from Brock Immke. Stephen Dunn leads the area with eight wins and Louis Acklin and Tyler McCormick are also capable arms for the Spartans. Blake Hoveln has been one of the area's better hitters the past couple of seasons and Hunter Hart has put together a nice season at the plate, too.