2020 Season Preview: Crestwood Panthers

06/27/2020 11:52 AM -

Crestwood, Ill. – June 27, 2020 – Although the 2019 Midwest Collegiate League season saw the Crestwood Panthers finish in last place for the second consecutive year, the team’s overall record overshadowed what looked to be the beginnings of a true contender. Case in point, the Panthers recorded over half of their 11 total wins in the final 16 games of the season. Additionally, from a historical perspective, Crestwood actually accounted for 1/4 of their lifetime victories within that same 16-game span. Thus, that franchise-altering run, fueled by elite pitching and a strong upper half of the lineup, is something that third-year manager Isaac Valdez believes he can build off in 2020. 

“I expect us to be very competitive and to be one of the top teams in this league,” Valdez said. “I think we’re very deep with position players, and we also have 17 pitchers ready to go. We’ve gotten very deep in every facet of our roster, plus our talent is tremendously upgraded from years past, so I expect us to really shine this season.”  

Valdez’s emphasis on improving the Panthers’ pitching depth proves to be encouraging news to the team’s 2020 prospects. Last season, Crestwood utilized four regular starting pitchers, who combined for eight total wins, yet lacked key arms in the bullpen and back end of the rotation. Two of the team’s primary hurlers from 2019, Breven Daugherity (Chicago State / Joliet, Ill.) and Eddie Wilkins (University of Illinois-Springfield / Shorewood, Ill.), are set to return for the upcoming year, joining talented newcomers in Max Engstrom (Indiana Wesleyan / Hickory Hills, Ill.), Brandon Tyler (Grambling State / Calumet City, Ill.), and Max Rundberg (Coppin State / Chicago, Ill.) to form an impeccable starting rotation.  

“We’ve definitely added a lot of quality pitching,” Wilkins said. “You know, last year, we had a solid front half of our rotation, but we just lacked some depth on the back end. Now, I believe we’re going to be much more consistent and stable throughout our whole rotation and lineup. That makes me very hopeful and excited about what’s to come for us this season.”

Offensively speaking, Crestwood has also retained its patented one-two punch at the top of the batting order in Reggie Brock Jr. (Chicago State / Chicago, Ill.) and Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.), both of whom were All-MCL honorees in 2019. The team is also expecting returners Tim Fauth (North Park University / Elk Grove Village, Ill.), D’Vante Glenn (Coe College / Chicago, Ill.), and Lawrence Noble (Coppin State / Chicago, Ill.) to provide significant impacts throughout the lineup. As for the Panthers’ new additions, anticipate the likes of C.J. Breen (Niagara / Chicago, Ill.), Giovanni Lopez (College of DuPage / Saint John, Ind.), Cameron Bufford (Grambling State / South Holland, Ill.), and Andrew Tenison (Moraine Valley CC / Orland Park, Ill.) to further strengthen an already-formidable offensive presence.

“I have confidence in each and every player on this team,” Brock said. “We definitely have the potential to make it to the postseason here in 2020, and I have very high hopes for what we can do this year.”  

Hilbrich echoed that sentiment, but also emphasized Crestwood’s revamped outfield as another possible contributor to the team’s future success.

“I think our outfield is going to look great with guys like Lawrence Noble, Reggie Brock, plus myself and Gio [Giovanni Lopez],” Hilbrich said. “The infield is looking very good too with Tim [Fauth] returning at first base, so I’m just excited to see all of the pieces that we’ve added this year come together with our returners to make a run.”  

Therefore, with considerable depth now at hand, a highly-accomplished returning core in place, and a prevailing hunger for playoff baseball, the Panthers possess all the ingredients necessary to be a serious contender in the MCL. And according to Valdez, Crestwood has a true shot to make that a reality.   

“I fully expect us to be apart of this year’s championship series,” he said. “We are more than capable of doing it, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Crestwood will begin the 2020 season on Saturday, July 4, hosting the Southland Vikings. Jon Zaghloul and Jack Theil will be on the call via the Panthers Broadcast Network, which is available on Facebook Live.