Aaron Chao was the most feared baseball player in the Northeast Corner Conference this past spring.
Our own Chris Reed interviewed some of the baseball players who made the All-Area team and asked them, who did they fear the most on the diamond? Almost all of them said Chao, which made him the easy choice for the 2019 KPC Media Group Baseball Player of the Year.
There’s no doubt to why some of the area’s top players would say Chao when you look at some of his numbers from this past season.
The Eastern Illinois signee finished with a 10-1 record on the mound and allowed very few runs to cross the plate with a 0.94 earned run average. He was among the state leaders in strikeouts with 138, only issued 20 walks and gave up 34 hits all season.
If his dominance on the mound wasn’t enough to impress you, he could also do some damage at the plate.
He hit for a .473 batting average, .545 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .892. He mashed six home runs, drove in 24 runs and scored 34 times. He stole 17 bases and had a total of nine doubles, two triples and 12 walks.
Whenever the Hornets were in a big game, Chao was the one to toe the rubber. The senior’s lone loss on the season was against really good Jay County team in a semifinal of the Class 3A Garrett Regional. Of course, he was on the All-Northeast Corner Conference team.
While Chao was the dominant individual in the area, Eastside, as a team, was dominant, which earned its leader Aaron Willard Coach of the Year honors.
The Blazers won the NECC with a 10-1 record, two games better than the rest of the conference. In those conference games, Eastside only gave up 33 runs and scored 110. Overall, it outscored its opponents 231-105, which is a big reason why five Blazers (Chase Franz, Joe White, Maguire Jacobs, Noah Johnson and Nic Shewman) made the All-Area team. Eastside finished the year with a 22-4 record and fell to LaVille in the Class 2A Westview Sectional championship game.
The regular season conference title was the Blazers’ first outright since 1960. They shared the league championship in 2016.
“There’s some really good baseball teams in our conference,” Willard said after clinching the title with an 11-3 win over Prairie Heights on May 17. “For us to win, it says a lot about our kids.”
The rest of the all-area baseball team is as follows:
EASTSIDE Chase Franz, Sr.
Franz finished his Blazer career with a stellar 2019 season, hitting .494 with six home runs, 36 RBI, 10 doubles and nine stolen bases. The University of Saint Francis commit was an Indiana North All-Star, on the All-NECC team and nominated as an IHSBCA District D Player of the Year candidate.
Joe White, Sr.
Behind the plate for Eastside, White threw out 11 runners attempting to steal against him this past season. Only nine runners were successful. The Indiana University Kokomo signee batted .365 with one homer, 29 RBI, 17 runs and eight doubles. White also earned All-NECC honors.
Maguire Jacobs, Sr.
Jacobs was one part of the 1-2 punch of the Blazers’ pitching staff. On the mound, he was 4-2 with a 2.22 ERA with 56 strikeouts. At the plate, the All-NECC selection hit .345 with a homer, four doubles and a triple.
Nic Shewman, Sr.
The other standout Eastside pitcher was Shewman. He finished the 2019 season with a 7-1 record on the mound with a 2.39 ERA and 35 strikeouts.
Noah Johnson, Jr.
Johnson was another impactful hitter that added depth to the Blazer lineup. He batted .400 with four doubles and 10 stolen bases. He was an All-NECC selection.
DEKALB Easton Rhodes, Jr.
The Barons’ leadoff hitter finished the spring with a .430 average, 46 hits and 35 runs scored. He was an All-Northeast 8 Conference First Team selection.
Ben Christiansen, Sr.
Christiansen finished out his Baron career hitting .357 in his final season. The Rose-Hulman commit tallied up 30 hits, scored 35 times and was also an first teamer on the All-NE8 team.
Tyler Stahl, Jr.
Stahl was another dangerous hitter in the DeKalb lineup, hitting .443 with 35 hits, 28 runs batted in and 28 runs scored. On the mound, the All-NE8 First Team selection racked up 53 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings.
Steele Jackson, So.
Jackson provided the most power for the Barons in 2019, depositing five home runs over the fence with 32 RBI while hitting for a .388 average. He was an All-NE8 honorable mention.
Aric Ehmke, So.
Ehmke shined on the mound and at the dish for DeKalb this season. When he toed the rubber, he went 8-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings. He also hit .356 with four homers and 36 RBI to earn him an All-NE8 First Team honors.
EAST NOBLE Rhett Norris, Sr.
Norris led the Knights’ offense with a .381 batting average. He had 24 hits, one homer, 20 RBI, 11 runs and a pair of triples. He was selected as an All-NE8 honorable mention.
WESTVIEW Matthew Jones, Sr.
Jones was one of the top hitters in the NECC in 2019. He finished in the top five in the conference in batting average (.468), on-base percentage (.554) and home runs (four). As an All-NECC honoree, Jones also had 16 RBI, 10 doubles and had a slugging percentage of .831. He’ll play at Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College next fall.
Jansen Brandenberger, Sr.
Brandenberger helped provide some of the power for the Warriors with six home runs while batting .371. He was an All-NECC selection and had five doubles and 20 RBI with an on-base percentage of .535 while slugging .773. He added four saves and a win on his résumé as the team’s closer and tallied 12 strikeouts in 13 innings of work.
Nick Rensberger, Sr.
Rensberger was also another Warrior selected to the All-NECC team. The future Huntington Forester hit .397 and finished with an on-base percentage of .567. He put up four homers, 23 RBI, six doubles and drew 22 walks.
LAKELAND Kole Miller, Sr.
Miller was the leader behind the plate for the Lakers this past season. He hit for an average of .371 with 26 hits, three home runs, 31 RBI, eight doubles and a pair of stolen bases. Miller was one of two Lakeland players on the All-NECC team.
Brayden Bontrager, So.
Bontrager was the other All-NECC selection for the Lakers. The sophomore batted .500 with 27 hits, one deep shot, 18 RBI and 24 runs. He drew 19 walks, stole 14 bases and hit seven doubles and one triple.
Austin Albert, Sr.
Albert was another dangerous hitter for the Lakers. He hit for a .424 batting average and an on-base percentage of .524. He racked up 28 hits, six doubles, 30 runs and 17 RBI. On the basepaths, he stole 16 bases and was an All-NECC honorable mention.
ANGOLA Ryan Brandt, Jr.
Brandt was one of the fastest players on the baseball field this season. He recorded 13 stolen bases and scored 19 runs for the Hornets. He hit .379 with a pair of home runs, 19 RBI and seven doubles.
Kaleb Farnham, Jr.
Along with Chao, Farnham was another Hornet hitter who could go deep at any time. He put six balls over the fence in 2019, along with 23 RBI, 23 runs and nine doubles. The All-NECC honoree also drew 11 walks and slugged for a .625 percentage.
FREMONT Kameron Colclasure, So.
Colclasure was the leader on the mound and at the plate for the Eagles in 2019. He earned All-NECC honors after batting .407 with 44 hits, one homer, 20 RBI and 36 runs scored. On the rubber, he went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings.
Nick Miller, Fr.
Miller burst out on the baseball scene for Fremont and was a wall behind the plate. The All-NECC catcher hit for a .370 batting average with 34 hits and 35 RBI. He finished with a .954 fielding percentage and threw out 13 runners attempting to steal.
PRAIRIE HEIGHTS Layne Bachelor, Sr.
Bachelor finished the 2019 season with a batting average of .452 and notched 28 RBI, which were both top five in the NECC, according to MaxPreps. Bachelor also produced four home runs for Heights with seven doubles and 13 runs. CHURUBUSCO
Brayten Gordon, So.
As the Eagles’ leadoff hitter, Gordon had a lot of success with a .467 on-base percentage. He only struck out five times all season and hit .360 with a homer, 19 RBI, 22 runs and nine stolen bases. He was an All-NECC selection.
GARRETT Kobe Lucarelli, Sr.
Lucarelli was one of a few Railroader hitters who had some pop in their bats this past spring. Lucarelli hit six home runs with a .449 average, drove in 34 runs and scored 24 runs. The All-NECC selection had a .963 fielding percentage as Garrett’s first baseman.
Honorable mentions were East Noble’s Brooks Miller, Angola’s Chase Soulliere and David Frank, Fremont’s Rourke Crabill, Westview’s Kurtis Davis, Prairie Heights’ Ryan Rasler, Eastside’s Dylan Hertig, West Noble’s Jorge Villanueva and Garrett’s Tristan Taylor and Camden Harris.