Loyola lost most of its starters — including its two top pitchers and several of its best hitters — from last season’s club that captured a Class 4A sectional championship.
Yet, head coach Nick Bridich isn’t talking about rebuilding. In fact, he said this team has the talent to make another deep postseason run.
Regardless of Saturday’s season-opening 15-2 loss to St. Patrick at Kerry Wood Field in Chicago, there’s no reason to doubt Bridich, who’s in his seventh season.
A year ago, the Ramblers went 23-10-1 last year and won the program’s first sectional title since 2008. Bridich has won more games than he did in each previous season.
“Things are looking good,” he said. “I’m happy with how we’ve grown and improved in all facets. Our coaches are tremendous pros, and we have a lot of good athletes in the program. We have a lot of people who work really hard, and I’m grateful for that.”
Senior shortstop Jack Moran and senior centerfielder Jake Novak are the only two returning starters. Novak, a captain, hit .304 with an OPS of 1.054. He had five home runs, 33 RBIs and scored 26 runs. Moran batted .300 with an .805 OPS. He had 17 RBIs, 21 runs scored and 13 stolen bases.
Novak also pitched out of the bullpen last season. The left-hander threw 27 innings in 12 appearances. He finished with an ERA of 2.07 and held opponents to a .227 batting average. Novak earned the save in the regional final by pitching a scoreless seventh in Loyola’s 4-2 win over Notre Dame.
Seniors Joe McKermitt and Patrick Neenan are two players back with significant varsity experience. A captain, Neenan plays third base and is a right-handed pitcher. McKermitt is a left-hander pitcher.
The rest of the infield includes junior Andrew Smart at first base, junior Ryan Nevins at second base and junior Collin Summerhill at catcher. Summerhill saw time behind the plate as a sophomore.
Bridich said junior Kyle Zupec is an invaluable addition to the roster as a utility infielder.
Joining Novak in the outfield are senior Jared Lombardi, senior Finn McLaughlin, senior Charlie Owen, junior Mikey Bednarek and sophomore Braden Mullen.
Bridich called Mullen, who’s 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, one of the best players he’s ever coached. Mullen will hit in the middle of the order.
“He’s an incredible offensive talent and will be fun to watch,” Bridich said.
Backing up Summerhill are junior Jake Bosak and junior Matt LeClercq.
According to Bridich, the pitching staff is one of the deepest he’s had at Loyola.
Senior right-hander Colin Gillespie, junior right-hander Michael Ellingsen and junior right-hander Thomas Schafer are projected starters, along with McKermitt and Neenan. Bridich said the 6-2, 200-pound Schafer throws in the upper 80s.
Junior left-hander John Gavric, junior right-hander TJ McCabe, sophomore right-hander DJ Morand and sophomore right-hander Daniel Reichel will work out of the bullpen.
A team manager last season, senior Tommy Dowdle is Loyola’s other captain.