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Lakes’ Nick Hibbing would be top-of-rotation pitcher for every area team

Ace pitcher Nick Hibbing works out during practice Lakes High gym Thursday night. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

Ace pitcher Nick Hibbing works out during practice in the Lakes High gym on Thursday night. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

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Lakes Eagles Baseball

Today — at Deerfield, 10 a.m.

Monday — at Bloomington

Tuesday — at Highland

Wednesday — at Troy Triad

Mon., April 4 — host Grayslake North, 4:30 p.m.

Updated: April 27, 2011 12:19AM

He’s already secured his scholarship to the University of Iowa.

If he has a strong senior season this spring, he will get drafted by a Major League Baseball organization and could start getting paid to play a game he’s played for fun since he was 6 years old.

And in his first start of this prep campaign, he fanned 10 Johnsburg batters in four innings as he pitched his team to victory.

So, you might think the 2011 baseball season for Lakes High pitcher Nick Hibbing already is a win-win situation.

Well, in the end, in might be. But right now, the 6-foot-6 is thinking “team” and the unfinished business the Eagles squad has as it enters Hibbing’s final year with the team.

To wit: It’s time to win a regional and do some serious damage in the IHSA postseason tournament.

In each of the last two years, Lakes has won the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division title and had a very nice season (23-12 in the 2009 and 23-13 in 2010) but gone completely bust in the playoffs, losing to unheralded opponents in Round 1.

Hibbing, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who was 7-0 with a 1.09 earned-run average last year, is determined to change the way the seasons have been ending for the Eagles.

“We really want to get past the first round of the playoffs this year. That first game has been really tough on us. Last year (a 12-8 regional loss to Antioch in which Hibbing did not pitch) left a really bad taste in our mouth,” he said. “It was hard for me because I wasn’t able to contribute, because I had pitched the game before and was scheduled to pitch the game after.”

Last year, Hibbing was part of a “Big 3” for the Eagles, along with seniors Travis Vanderwall (now at North Central College) and D.J. Snelton (pitching for the Minnesota Gophers and a 30th-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres.

This year, Hibbing is THE man on the mound, and his team will be toiling for a new coach.

Ray Gialo has replaced Bill Rosencrans (46-25 in 2 seasons, 2 NSC Prairie championships, 0 playoff wins). Rosencrans’ teaching position was eliminated last summer due to cutbacks at the school.

Gialo, a teacher at the school, had been a varsity assistant at Lakes for the five years the school was open. Before that, he was the varsity coach at St. Patrick in the prestigious East Suburban Catholic for three seasons.

“I think our team knows every time Nick is on the mound, our chances of winning are pretty good,” said Gialo. “Last year, as part of that staff, he had as much success as D.J. and Travis, but was, I think, a bit more unsung because they were seniors. That was great experience for him ... gives him something extra he can bring to us this year.”

This year, Hibbing will team up on the mound with junior Chris Hoffman and senior Paul Kulkulka, among others.

Hibbing was a three-sport athlete at Lakes until this year, when he took a pass on the football team after serving as varsity quarterback as a junior. He did play basketball for the Eagles during the winter.

So, where was he while the Eagles were qualifying for the football playoffs?

“I actually went down to Elgin, where I play my summer baseball with the Fox Valley Royals, and I worked out with my pitching coach, Ben Erickson, down there,” Hibbing said. ”We worked on my changeup a lot. I also worked on a lot of lower-body stuff. I didn’t get my legs involved as much as I should have last year, so I was able to improve my velocity which was really a focal point for me this year.”

He said is fastball is in the 88-91 mph range, and his curve acts a lot like a slider. “And I have a changeup that I’ve really worked on and has gotten a lot better this year,” he said. “That was my focus over the summer ... improving my changeup.”

Gialo knows his team will be favored to win at least once each week — Hibbing’s start. He’s hoping to build on those victories and have another 20-win season.

“We’re pretty strong up the middle,” the coach said. “We return our starting second baseman and shortstop — Nick Traska and Jake Brown. Chris Hoffman started in right field for us last year and is moving to center, so we feel pretty good up the middle. Paul Kulkulka is a three-year starter for us so we expect him to be a big contributor.”

And, of course, there’s the goal of doing damage in the playoffs.

“Really, I think the big thing is getting guys to relax,” the coach said. “Last year, in that (regional opener) against Antioch, we were gripping the bats so tight I thought we were going to melt the handles. You would have thought those guys had the weight of the world on their shoulders on every at-bat, and with every ball hit to them.

“I’m a little more laid back, and I’m hoping that approach will filter down a little bit to the kids.”

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