It’s difficult to find a baseball season in which the Marquette Crusaders have NOT left themselves a pretty tough act to follow, and the one that’s about to start in the next week or so is no exception.
Coach Todd Hopkins’ program is coming off a 30-4 campaign that ended with the Class 1A fourth-place trophy at the IHSA State Finals in Peoria and hasn’t experienced double-digit losses in a season since 2009.
And based on the talent he has returning from a year ago, there’s a good possibility that next year it will have a similar standard to live up to.
Even with the loss of Times Player of the Year Bryce Foster and three-year starters Michael Killelea, Zach Dyche and Kyle Cook, the Crusaders are loaded again, returning two Times All-Area First Team choices in center fielder Logan Komater and shortstop Nate Melvin, two Second Teamers in second baseman Luke Couch and pitcher John Thompson, and Third Team picks in right fielder Jack Snook and pitcher Shane Reynolds.
“We’ll really miss the guys we lost to graduation. They made us go, and not only that, their leadership will be really hard to replace,” said Hopkins, who with a 509-170 mark over his 21 seasons now owns 53.8 percent of all baseball wins in Marquette’s 67-year history. “My only real concern is the leadership, seeing who steps up when the chips are down.
"That will be something to see.”
Losing Foster’s arm hurts, but there are plenty of quality pitchers ready to step up, including Thompson, the winning hurler in the dramatic Bloomington Supersectional win over Okaw Valley who finished with a 7-2 mark, a 1.77 ERA, 44 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 47 1/3 innings. Reynolds was right there, too, going 4-0 with a 2.12 ERA, 47 Ks and 12 walks in 39 2/3 frames pitched, and senior Max Mitchell, who is coming off a 6-0, 2.50-ERA junior season.
Also on the bump will be seniors Hunter McAlpine and Connor Durdan, along with classmates Bryce Jones, Komater and Nate Melvin, junior Jay Scott, and sophomores Couch, Nick Melvin and Grant Waldron.
Scott will be the primary catcher, so when he throws senior Liam Dougherty and freshman Hayden McKenna will go behind the plate.
The Crusaders infield is solid and experienced up the middle with Nate Melvin, a .417 hitter who led the area with 48 runs scored, and Couch, who in his freshman year swatted at a .367 clip with 38 runs and 17 RBIs. Moving in to take over first base will be a combo of seniors, led by Hayden Price. Connor Durdan and Max Donahue will also play there, while McAlpine, senior Jack Durdan and Jalen Flavel will start the season at third.
The outfield will be anchored in center by Komater, who hit .463 with 39 runs scored and 39 RBIs, and in right Snook, who batted .301 with 21 runs and 21 RBIs. Stepping into left replacing Cook will likely by sophomore Nick Melvin, the senior shortstop’s younger brother who hit .393 in 16 games last spring.
Also in the outfield will be Reynolds, Jones, Connor Durdan, senior Evan Green and junior Lennon Daniels.
“We have some arms back, five guys who could be our No. 1 depending on who’s hot and when, and there’s some depth there,” said Hopkins. “Pitching and defense will be a strength. I’m not sure we’ll hit very well, at least not with the pop we had a year ago, and even then that wasn’t really that much. We’ll be bunting and running more than we did a year ago, because when we did do it last year things happened, as you saw in the postseason.
“Nothing’s set in stone, of course, but there are a lot of guys back who’ve earned the first crack at certain positions, then we’ll go from there.”
No. Player Pos. Yr.
1 Luke Couch IF So.
3 Jack Snook OF Sr.
5 Logan Komater OF/P Sr.
7 Liam Dougherty OF/C Sr.
8 Jay Scott P/Util. Jr.
9 Nick Melvin OF/P So.
12 Jalen Flavel IF/P Jr.
14 Connor Durdan Util./P Sr.
15 Grant Waldron IF/P So.
17 Evan Green OF Sr.
20 Nate Melvin IF/P Sr.
21 Lennon Daniels OF Jr.
22 Haydon Price IF Sr.
23 Hayden McKenna C Fr.
24 Bryce Jones P/OF Sr.
25 John Thompson P/IF Jr.
26 Shane Reynolds P-IF-OF So.
30 Hunter McAlpine IF/P Sr.
32 Jack Durdan IF Sr.
34 Max Donahue OF/IF Sr.
35 Max Mitchell P/OF Sr.
Head coach: Todd Hopkins (22nd season)