West Chicago baseball’s Senior Night ends in a win

On May 14, the West Chicago baseball team played their last home game of the season and said goodbye to their seniors.
Senior baseball players and their familys line up to take a picture during the pregame ceremony.
Senior baseball players and their family’s line up to take a picture during the pregame ceremony.
Photo by Carlos Allen

(For Miley Pegg’s photo essay, click here.)

On Tuesday, May 14, the West Chicago Varsity baseball team hosted their annual Senior Night at Pioneer Park against the East Aurora Tomcats.

The Wildcats have had a small drop in their record after losing three of their last five games. The three games that West Chicago lost stood at the hands of Bartlett and Plainfield South, but the Wildcats swept South Elgin in their two-game series. 

The seniors who got recognized in the pre-game ceremony were four-year players Tyler Heath and Brandon R. Heath. Tyler and Brandon are going to Oakton College in the fall to continue their athletic and academic careers. Watching them and being teammates since freshman year, spectators knew they could play at the next level. The overall talent both of the boys had and pushing each other to get better each game showed day in and day out. Tyler Heath is planning on studying biology, and Brandon Heath is studying computer science.

Four-year player Kyler Campbell broke his thumb early last year and was out for the entire season, but this season, Campbell started where he left off. A trustworthy player behind the dish and a bat that will surely do damage, Campbell’s love for the sport, his teammates, and his coaches will always be something that sticks with the name ‘Kyler Campbell.’ Campbell is going to the University of Miami in Ohio to study music education.

Four-year player Rafael Hererra Mota moved from Mexico to West Chicago during his freshman year. Not knowing a word of English when he got to West Chicago did not matter to his baseball ability; Herrera started working out during the offseason, and it showed in his game. Herrera is a utility player who can play anywhere in the field if needed and has a dangerous bat as well. He is planning to go to the College of DuPage to further his studies, and he hopes to continue to play baseball there as well.

Four-year player Joey Engstrom always lifted the spirits in the dugout, and spectators could hear him from the stands cheering on his teammates. Engstrom is one of the biggest lovers of baseball one will ever meet, and it shows in the way he watches and talks about the game. Engstrom has played baseball his entire life, just like the rest, but he is going to hang up the cleats after the season. Engstrom is going into the trade to learn to be a plumber starting in the fall.

Four-year player Dominic Cicero has filled empty spots on the roster since his junior year. Cicero is mainly a third baseman, but found some time in the outfield throughout the last two seasons due to injured outfielders. Cicero’s power bat brings fire to the already well-lit flame the Wildcats have going. Cicero’s attitude, fun demeanor, and the way he plays the sport are something to admire. Cicero is going to the College of DuPage for automotive studies, and plans to join the trade after a few years.

Four-year player Drew Zeman has long had something special; maybe it is the disgusting pick-off move to first base that has claimed many victims, or maybe it is the curveball that starts above the batter’s head but then ends up in the middle of the strike zone. Although Zeman does not throw the hardest on the team, he is still a pitcher whom batters do not want to see. Since his freshman year, Zeman has given every team he has been on the gift of a left-handed PO (Pitcher Only). Zeman is going to the College of DuPage to study finance.

Three-year player Ryan Zalak has put in endless work in the weight room and in the winter open gyms; he asks questions about his fielding to anyone who will listen. Zalak is what baseball is about: keep wanting to get better and never saying enough is enough. Zalak has been in and out of the lineup since his junior year, but always strives to be better. He often trains with his younger brother Sam Zalak in the offseason and goes to the batting cages whenever they can. Zalak is going to the College of DuPage, but is still undecided about his studies.

“Senior Night is always a special event. It’s the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication to our program. It gives those guys one last chance to compete on our field as teammates,” head coach T.J. Nall said.

Brandon R. Heath and Tyler Heath with their mom, dad, and two sisters. (Photo by Carlos Allen)

After the seniors walked out to the field with their parents to shake Nall’s hand and stand for pictures, the game was underway.

Zeman started on the mound for West Chicago and got out of the top of the first rather quickly but did let up a single.

Julio Gallegos toed the rubber for the Tomcats, but just like Zeman, Gallegos got out of the inning in a hurry after two ground outs from Tommy Doyle and B. Heath.

Zeman would have another quick inning that had two strikeouts, and Zeman picked off the guy at first after he hit a single.

Hererra led off the inning with a single into left field; Cicero followed with a walk, and both advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. Herrera scored on a groundball from Zalak to give West Chicago the lead, 1-0.

Royal Day then struck out for the second out of the inning. Engstrom was next up and went to first on an error to put bases on the corners for the B. Heath. B. Heath hit a hit a few outs to center, which ended the inning.

In the top of the third, Zeman let the bases get loaded with only one out. A hard ground ball was hit to Cicero that he fielded and threw home to get the force at home. Zeman struck out the last batter for the third out of the inning to save the lead.

Doyle led off in the bottom of the third, but struck out. T. Heath was next up and poked the ball into left field for a single, and got to second on a wild pitch during the next at-bat. Campbell followed T. Heath by getting a single for himself to advance T. Heath to third. Herrera grounded out, but brought T. Heath home to give the Wildcats another run, 2-0.

Cicero was next with two outs and drove home Campbell with a single, 3-0. Zalak hit a single to right field to advance Cicero to third. Unfortunately, Day struck out to end the inning.

Drew Zeman ended his solid start with no earned runs and 3 strikeouts in 4.0 innings pitched. (Photo by Miley Pegg)

The first pitching change of the day came in the top of the fourth, where B. Heath came in for Zeman. Zeman was moved to left field, Cicero to third, and Herrera to shortstop. B. Heath walked his first-faced batter on four pitches, but quickly snapped back into focus by making the batter ground out into a fielder’s choice. B. Heath got his first game strikeout for the second out of the fourth inning. The Tomcats scored on an overthrow to third by Kyler Campbell, but B. Heath stuck out the next batter to end the inning.

Engstrom started the bottom of the fourth inning with a single that just squeaked inside the third base foul line; B. Heath joined Engstrom on the basepaths with a single of his own, and Doyle swatted a single as well to make the bases loaded for T. Heath.

T. Heath hit a ground ball to short that got Doyle out at second, but scored Engstom from third, 4-0 Wildcats. Campbell got up to the plate, and after the first pitch T. Heath stole, the pitch following was a wild pitch that scored B. Heath from third, 5-1 Wildcats. With Campbell still up, he delivered a two-strike single that brought home T.Heath. Campbell tested his luck and tried to make it into a double, but got thrown out from center field for the last out of the inning, 6-1 West Chicago.

The Tomcats did not score in the top of the fifth.

Zalak led off the bottom half of the sixth with a hard-hit single into right field and got to second after Day grounded out. Engstrom got walked on four pitches, and Zalak got to third on a wild pitch. B. Heath got to walk as well. Doyle ground into a fielder choice that got B. Heath was out at second, but Zalak scored from third, 7-1 Wildcats. T. Heath and Campbell walked to bring Engstom home, 8-1 Wildcats.

Ryan Zalak at bat for first plate appearance of the day. (Photo by Miley Pegg)

No more scoring happened in the game for either team, which led to a healthy Wildcat victory.

“This year was a little different because of the success we had throughout the season. This senior class has set the bar high for years to come. They were leaders both on and off the field. It’ll be tough to see them go. The coaching staff wishes them well and the best of luck in all of their future endeavors,” Nall said.

West Chicago is going to play the Willowbrook Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, which should be an exciting and well-fought game.





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