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The new era : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
The new era
Oswego baseball players place confidence in Johnson, work for winning year

by Christine Bolin Dascher


In the span of 10 years at Oswego, Mark Johnson has been the head sophomore coach and a varsity assistant for the Panthers' baseball team.

In early June, after former head coach Chris Neitzel resigned, Johnson was named the new head coach. He spent the summer and off-season with the Panthers and is getting ready for his first full season at the helm.

So far after a few weeks of practice, Johnson said things are going well and as planned.

"Everything has been positive," Johnson said. "It's nice to be in control, but you have to have help and good assistants. If you don't have good assistants, you are not going to have success."

It certainly helps Johnson has been around the program for many years and isn't brand-new.

"We had him as sophomores, so we know he's a good coach and a gamer," Oswego senior outfielder/pitcher Tucker Vann said. "He wants us to win in our senior season, so we definitely have confidence in him as our head coach. Things are really working out."

Last year, Oswego went 7-24 overall and 5-16 in the Southwest Prairie Conference. The season ended in the first round of the Class 4A Romeoville Regional against Plainfield Central (7-1) on May 20.

Team chemistry was an issue last year. According to Johnson, that is already a big positive this season with the Panthers.

"Chemistry is huge with this group," Johnson said. "We've done very well at the lower levels, even though we haven't had the most talent. But those kids worked their tails off and they got along. I think at the varsity level last year, we had a lot of kids - for whatever reason - just weren't having fun or weren't getting along. There was talent, but they weren't meshing and that's what we've been working on since last summer. All the kids have been working together, and you can see the kids are now having fun. They are learning and putting 100 percent out there."

"There are better attitudes on the team this year," Oswego senior outfielder Charlie Jakubowski added. "Everyone knows each other and gets along well. Everyone knows where everyone's at so it's definitely a lot better than last year."

There are 11 returning seniors from last year's team. They are Mark Couch (second base), Jakubowski, Alex Compton (pitcher/infielder), Jerome Minick (infielder/pitcher), Brad Whowell (outfielder), Vann, Pieroni (catcher), Mitch Wilson (shortstop), Israel Ortiz (pitcher), Blake Sempetrean (outfielder/pitcher) and Bryce Holm (outfielder).

The 10 juniors are Dominick Lukowski (second base), Jake Rock (third base/pitcher), Diego Barocio (pitcher/outfielder), Austin Schlaker (outfielder/pitcher), Marty Maves (third base/pitcher), Cameron Paladines (infielder/pitcher/catcher), Ryan Sharp (outfielder/pitcher), Garrett Dennehy (pitcher), Zach Sparkman (first base/pitcher) and Matt Rakosnik (pitcher/designated hitter).

The two sophomores are Carter Turnquist (infielder) and Konor Gengler (pitcher/outfielder).

"We have a good group of guys - a good mix of juniors and seniors," Wilson said. "I'm really excited about the results we are going to get this season."

If Johnson had to name his top two starting pitchers - in no particular order - he said it would be Sempetrean and Minick. The next few spots are up for grabs between Ortiz, Paladines, Turnquist and Vann.

"I think we are looking pretty strong," Vann said about the Panthers' pitching. "Everyone works their tails off. Even though we really don't have that big-name player, I wouldn't trade anyone in the rotation. They all work so hard."

Wilson should be batting in the leadoff spot, and a lot of the general offensive production should come from Rock, Holm and Sparkman.

The first regular season game in scheduled for Saturday hosting Plano, but it is more than likely at least the first few outings of the year will either be canceled or postponed due to the harsh winter and frozen conditions on the field.

The Panthers have eight games scheduled before the Southwest Prairie Conference season starts against rival Oswego East on the road. The first of three outings is set to start on April 8.

Minooka won the conference title last year at 18-3, followed by Plainfield South at 17-4. Both Plainfield North and Plainfield Central ended up 11-10 but the Tigers ended up in third ahead of the Wildcats due to head-to-head competition between the two teams.

Oswego East and Plainfield East both went 10-11, but the Wolves ended up ahead of the Bengals due to head-to-head competition (Oswego East won two of the three regular season games). Oswego finished in seventh while Romeoville went 2-19.

"(Conference is) going to be hard," Wilson said. "It's always tough, but if we can be competitive and be there at the end of games, I think we will get some wins."

"We just have to come at it full speed," Jakubowski added. "We know there are some very good teams in the conference, but we can compete with them - we have in the past. We just have to come out strong ready to go."

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