The News-Gazette's baseball Top 10: Monticello debuts at No. 1

Apr. 18—An undefeated team. Another one on the cusp of 20 wins. With a month to go in the regular season, an abundance of talent is playing out at area baseball fields. Sports Editor Matt Daniels breaks it all down in The News-Gazette's Top 10 poll:

Illinois State signee Luke Teschke is a force on the mound for the Sages and has been since he was a sophomore. But coach Chris Jones' program boasts a deep and talented lineup, too, with Koyie Williams and Eli Craft capable of putting one over the fence every game. Wednesday's win against Salt Fork marked the latest triumph in what's shaping up as a special season in Piatt County.

Illinois signee Luke Landrus and Danville Area Community College signee Braxton Waller give coach Josh Haley's team two solid options near the top of the Spartans' batting order. Nolan Earley can shoulder the load on the mound, with Bryson Houchens and Jared Altenbaumer key pitchers, too. Win two more games and SJ-O will have its 12th straight season of at least 20 victories.

Blake Wolters is gone, pursuing his professional hopes with the Kansas City Royals. But Mason Orton is the latest Bulldogs pitcher to excel on the mound, with the junior left-hander capable of throwing a shutout every time he gets the ball. Add in the potent bat of Gavin Bailey and the steady leadership of Finn Randolph, and veteran coach Nic Difilippo has another talented team at his disposal.

Can the Rockets win a second straight regional championship for the first time in program history? Absolutely. Coach Tom Kimball has a hearty dose of returnees from last year's team that ended a 30-year drought for IHSA postseason hardware by Unity. Brock Suding, Aiden Porter, Emmerson Bailey, Tre Hoggard and Dane Eisenmenger, among others, lead the way.

Parkland signee Drew Wichtowski headlines the Tigers' efforts. Throw in what Cade Schaumburg, Zach Russell, Cameron Steinbaugh, Matthew Darling and Easton Barney can do as well, and coach Joe Brazas has a talented group this spring in Vermilion County. Maybe one that can deliver Westville its first regional title since 1993, too, and compete for a Vermilion Valley Conference title.

Tanner Thomas still has another year of high school left after this spring. But one is forgiven if it seems like the Louisville commit has been with the Purple Riders for some time. Coach Mike Phillips has a plethora of multi-sport athletes who are helping out on the baseball diamond, too, with Thomas, Braden Phillips, Jackson Griffith and Brody Phillips sparking a successful season.

First-year coach Nate Ennis is capitalizing on successful seasons already this school year in football and boys' basketball by the Maroons. Having athletes like Mason Walker, Brooks Cluver, Colton Walker and Josh Bass contribute on the baseball diamond, too, certainly helps. Especially this month as Clinton has rattled off seven straight wins to start April and could contend for the Central Illinois Conference title.

An impressive Heart of Illinois Conference win on Wednesday against Eureka allowed Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley to continue their superb start. Veteran coach Dustin White relies on Millikin recruit Ty Cribbett at the top of the batting order for the Falcons. But Zach Price, David Hull and Altin Nettleton provide solid at-bats, with Brayden Elliott and Graydon Leonard significant contributors, too.

The Blue Devils are racking up the runs and wins. Case in point: Wednesday's 16-2 victory in five innings against an Armstrong-Potomac team that has only lost twice all season. Both times to Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin. Karson Stevenson, Jordan Johnson, Chaz Dubois, Micah Stanford and Cruz Dubois are several of the bats coach Mark Dodd counts on for a team that has a legit shot to reach 20 wins by May.

A tough schedule saw the Maroons struggle early. But, if we've learned anything through the years, it's to never doubt a team coached by John Staab. Chris Timmons, Charlie Hobbs, Luke McClure and Sam McArthur, among others, are helping Central rebound so far in April with Big 12 victories against Normal West and Peoria Richwoods before it hosts Centennial on Friday night.