Top Tier Baseball Kicks Off This Weekend

By: Cody Smith

 McCook, IL- The Top Tier Baseball season is officially underway, now that the high school baseball season has come to a close. And what better way to kick it off than with a friendly, but competitive, Intersquad games between the 15 year-olds. As they just got done with their first year of being in high school, the 15U’s look to transition into elite high school travel ball. They go into the weekend looking to shake off any rust from the layoff of their high school season while competing against one another, similarly how they did in winter workouts. The games will be played at Providence Catholic High School at 1800 W. Maple St in New Lenox, IL 60451. Not only will the players be playing against their lifelong friends and teammates, but it will also feature every 15U team in the Top Tier program. The weekend will feature the 15U Americans, 15U Nationals, 15U Nationals-Navy, 15U Nationals-White, 15U Morris, and 15U North.

 The first game will begin on Friday, May 25that 5:30 p.m. featuring the 15U Nationals-White vs. 15U Nationals-Navy. This will be and intriguing matchup between two first-time Top Tier coaches. TJ Marik, the head coach of the 15U White squad, is a Chicago native who attended Austin Peay before transferring to Northern Kentucky University. Marik is a former catcher who played two years at Austin Peay University and one season at NKU before having to hang his cleats up due to injury. The Top Tier alum is also a two-time Super 60 invite back when he played for St. Laurence High School. He was also on the 2018 Johnny Bench watch list, an award given to the best catcher in Division I baseball. “I’ve never been more excited to coach these groups of guys, especially being my first year of coaching,” said Marik. 

 On the other side, for the 15U Nationals-Navy team, is head coach Carter Turnquist from Oswego, IL. Coach Turnquist comes in the season with some coaching experience, from the past two years, before joining the Top Tier staff this season. He brings a certain dynamic due to being a two-way player as a pitcher and middle infielder. The former MVP and All-Conference player at Oswego High School expects his players to, “Play hard, and play for each other.” Turnquist currently plays at Aurora University after transferring from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. 

 Although the coaches might have a lot to prove being their first time coaching for Top Tier, so do the players. 15U Nationals-White player Jeffrey Wright is headed into the weekend looking to, “Make the effort to make every play possible,” to help his team come out with a win. Teammate Parker Jurgenson is also looking forward to the challenge stating, “I’m excited to go against people I know and compete against people I know who play at a high level.” For the 15U Nationals-Navy team, the goal is to get a feel for the team and shake off any rust since ending their high school seasons. Player Brett Kuczynski is a veteran in the Top Tier program, so he knows a lot of the players on his team. Going into this weekend, Kuczynski stated, “I’ve played with a lot of these kids before, so it will be nice to how these other kids can play and how we can come together and be the best team we can be.” As for his teammate, Jason Kusibab, it’s all business, stating, “I’m looking forward to competition. I played on an average travel team last year and this year I’m playing for an elite program.”

 Following Friday night’s game, baseball will resume Saturday morning with the 15U Nationals vs. the 15U Nationals-White at 9:30 am. Afterwards, the 15U North team squares off against the 15U Morris team at 12:00 pm. Thirdly, the 15U Americans kick off their weekend against the 15U North team at 2:45 pm, before playing the 15U Nationals-Navy team to close out the day. 

 Finally, the weekend will come to a close as Sunday begins with the highly anticipated matchup between the 15U Americans vs. 15U Nationals at 9:00 am.  This game with feature Top Tier’s best freshman prospects. Coaching for the 15U Nationals team is former first baseman Austin Jetel. Coach Jetel has former experience coaching at the ballpark in Mount Prospect meanwhile also running baseball clinics. Jetel was an All-Area and All-Conference player in high school before continuing his baseball career at Butler University on a baseball scholarship. He also was the top hitter on the 18thranked team in the country according to Perfect Game. “I’m really excited to coach this group, we got a ton of athletes,” said Jetel. For the 15U Americans, they are led by the first ever Top Tier award winner, Kyle Colletta. The former shortstop and pitcher is set to bring a different dynamic to the Americans team, as Colletta was a four-year starter at Northern Kentucky while earning All-Freshman honors in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Coach Colletta is starting his third year of coaching with the program after taking on an assistant role with mentor Griffin Phelps. This will be the first year he gets the nod for a head coach position in the high school program. “I’m beyond excited to coach these group of guys,” said Colletta. “I plan to keep these guys loose and let them be kids while still focusing on the task at hand.”

 As for the players, they’re even more excited than the coaches. Ryan Srejma, a Top Tier player since he was 10, has seen himself grow with the use of his communications skills as well as strength. Coming into this weekend, Srejma stated, “I want to know my team and grow a strong bond, and if we can come out on top this weekend.” Teammate Alec Mallinder is ready to get the season started after a long off-season in winter workouts. “I’m looking forward to seeing how everything plays out and how our teams stack up against one another,” said Mallinder. Other teammates, like Blake Hickey, are coming into the weekend with more specific goals. “I’m looking to go into the weekend attacking the first pitch fast ball while also looking for the curveball deep into the plate when I’m down in the count,” said Hickey. 

 On the other side, the 15u Americans are excited to get back to playing with the same group, as most of the guys have been playing a couple years with each other throughout the youth program. “I’m excited to be sticking around with the same group of kids. We’ve been playing together for a while,” said Giovanni Herrera. “I’m happy we added new players to the team that can help us out with things we struggled with last year.” First year Top Tier player, Charlie Cmiel, can’t wait to get out and see what kind of talent he’s going up against. “I’m excited to see what these kids can do,” Said Cmiel. “I’ve never played with kids with this amount of talent.” Cmiel also noted the quality of coaching he got with Top Tier is something he’s never seen before. “The coaching here at Top Tier is something I’ve never experienced; they knew exactly what I was doing wrong and showed me little things that helped me develop into the player I am today,” said Cmiel. As for Ryan Orput, he is ready to prove to coaches he deserves a starting role. “I’m ready to show what I can do to everyone and see if I can place my spot on this team,” said Orput. He also added how he appreciates how the Top Tier staff takes care of him, whether that be advice in development to even custom clothes, which is something that he lacked at his previous travel team. Either way, no matter who your rooting for, this will be the matchup of the weekend.

 Afterwards, the 15U Nationals play the 15U Morris team at 11:30 am to end their weekend. Right about that time, the 15U Nationals-Navy will be getting ready to finish their weekend by playing the 15U Morris team in their second game of a back to back. To cap off the weekend, the 15U Nationals-White team will compete against the 15U North team at 4:30 pm. Remember, all games are held at Providence Catholic High School.

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