After losing six seniors to graduation, including three who batted over .350, it would be easy to explain if Nokomis baseball would have had an off season in 2019.
Here's the thing though, Nokomis baseball doesn't have off seasons. At least, not very often.
Since 1981, the Redskins have had two seasons where they finished under .500. All of those wins have resulted in 11 regional titles for Nokomis, eight of which have come in the last 11 years.
The latest regional crown came this year as the Redskins went 20-5, proving the earlier point that Nokomis doesn't rebuild, but reloads.
It didn't start that way though. In their first three games, Nokomis went 0-3, falling to Carlinville, Marquette and Gillespie, three solid teams who would go on to win two regional titles (Carlinville and Gillespie won the regionals, with the Miners beating Marquette in their championship game).
But after the 17-6 loss to Gillespie, the Redskins flipped the switch and were dominant for much of the rest of the season. In April alone, the Redskins went 13-1 (the lone loss was to Williamsville), outscoring opponents 145 to 21 in the month.
After the loss to Williamsville, Nokomis would win 11 straight, beating a very good (and very young) Cumberland team 3-0 in the regional championship.
The Redskins' postseason journey would come to an end after that as North Clay rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to win their semifinal game at the Dietrich Sectional. North Clay would go on to fall to Altamont 6-4 in the sectional championship.
While the postseason was done, Nokomis still had business to do as they beat Bunker Hill and Metro-East Lutheran on back-to-back days to earn a share of the Prairie State Conference title with Marquette, who also went 3-1 with a loss to Metro-East Lutheran late in the season.
As impressive as the Skins were in 2019, next year has potential to be even more successful as this year's roster did not have any seniors.
The elder statesmen of the club were the team's eight juniors, all of whom played in at least 19 games. Four of those eight, Carter Sabol, Alex Tosetti, Ryan Janssen and Nick Mascher, have been varsity contributors since their freshman seasons and are only getting better as their careers go on.
Janssen led the team in hitting with a .425 average, with nearly more extra-base hits (14) than singles (17). A phenomenal defensive catcher, he had seven doubles, four triples and three home runs, while also getting the most out of every at-bat as he struck out just six times in 73 at-bats.
The whole team seemed to carry that philosophy with them as they got a free pass 115 times (88 walks and 27 hit batsmen), compared to just 109 strikeouts.
Mascher would bat .369 for the Redskins, one of seven players to bat .300 or better on the year. He finished the year with 21 runs scored, and 15 RBIs, while tying for the team lead in stolen bases with seven. Mascher also pitched 15 innings, allowing just two earned runs and striking out 13 to earn three wins on the mound.
Tosetti, a first team all-conference pick in the outfield, also had seven steals and was co-leader in runs scored with 27, while batting .316 on the year. Like Mascher, Tosetti also pitched for Nokomis, allowing seven runs in 15 innings with 12 Ks.
Nokomis' ace, Sabol, was nearly unhitable this year, allowing just 18 hits and four earned runs in 42 innings for an ERA of 0.59. Sabol had nearly the same innings pitched as last year (42 in 2019 to 41.1 in 2018), but increased his strikeouts by 29 as he finished with 80 Ks on the year, giving him 171 for his career. Sabol did okay with the bat too, batting .329 with a team-best 24 RBIs and 20 runs scored.
The surprises of the spring also came from the junior class. Ramsey transfer Drew Masset and junior infielder Marc Grigoroff were new additions to the varsity roster and came up big for Coach Brian Pesko.
Masset, who joined Sabol and Tosetti as a first team all-conference pick, batted .411 with 22 runs scored, 20 RBIs and seven extra-base hits. He also pitched in eight games, allowing seven runs in 29.1 innings for an ERA of 1.63, with 42 strikeouts.
Grigoroff made the most of his chance at varsity playing time by batting .345 on the season with 11 runs scored and 19 RBIs. He also made one pitching appearance, striking out four batters in three shutout innings to earn a win.
Adam Lyons and Quentin Jamieson would both see the field for Nokomis as well, with Lyons upping his average from .137 last year to .280 and Jamieson batting .250 on the year.
In addition to the juniors, Nokomis had Evan Herpstreith returning for his sophomore season after batting .387 as a freshman, with a team-best 1.41 ERA on the mound. Herpstreith's average dipped slightly to .292, but he still had six extra-base hits and shared the team lead in runs scored with 27. He was also a force in the bullpen for the Redskins, picking up six saves in 31 innings, with 45 strikeouts and just 16 walks.
Benny Clavin, a sophomore who went from JV to starting varsity in a year's time, batted .235 on the season and could make a bigger impact in 2020.
Of the three freshmen, Landon Engelman (brother of 2018 grad Conner Engelman) saw the most playing time, with 13 hits in 43 at-bats. He's going to be one to watch over the next three years. Jake Johnson and Cooper Bertolino also got their first taste of varsity baseball and will get some more experience next year.
All together, the Redskins are built to win, something they've done a lot in the last few years (80 wins since 2016). Nokomis also hasn't lost to a Class 1A team in the regular season since May of 2017.
If the Redskins can continue to build, another regional championship might be just the start in 2020.