It may be opening week for area high school, middle school and elementary school students and staff but there's still a little time left to enjoy summerlike temperatures before thoughts of Halloween come creeping upon us.
Before I can wrap my head around the fact that the first kickoff of the prep football season is fast approaching -- scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 30-31) -- here's one last look at some of the highlights from the summer.
The first pitch of the 2014 high school baseball season is nearly 7 months away but if the recently concluded summer campaign means anything, it could be quite a memorable Upstate Eight Conference River Division race next spring.
There was a distinct Tri-Cities feel to the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association's regional semifinals held last month at St. Charles East.
Last spring's UEC River co-champions, Batavia and St. Charles East, were joined by Geneva and St. Charles North, in the regional's final four.
Geneva, which held off Batavia in the semifinals, squared off against St. Charles East in the regional finals.
Despite graduating all but 2 starters from last spring's squad that placed third in the Class 4A state tournament, the Saints handed the Vikings a 9-1 defeat while advancing to the 8-team Phil Lawler Summer State Classic Tournament for the sixth time in school history.
Powered by starting pitchers Adam Eck, Austin Regelbrugge, Kyle Cook, and Mike Boehmer, the Saints allowed just 4 runs in 4 regional tourney games and recorded a pair of shutouts.
While the Saints' summer run was cut short following a 1-0 state semifinal loss to Lyons Township, they accomplished a program first -- qualifying for both the spring and summer state tournaments in the same year.
In addition, St. Charles East played without senior outfielder Brannon Barry, who spent the summer months attending numerous football camps and clinics in preparation for his final high school season as a starting wide receiver.
St. Charles North, which earned the regional's No. 1 seed with 20 victories, received a big boost from junior Carson Schmitt and Frankie Farry while playing without promising junior left-hander Cory Wright (travel ball) in the tourney.
Fueled by 3-year varsity veteran Micah Coffey and southpaw Jake Piechota, Batavia also enjoyed a banner summer season without the services of recent Indiana University recruit Laren Eustace (travel ball).
Returning all-UEC River Division infielder Ben Chally and sophomore Jack Wessel sparked Geneva's summer showing, as the Vikings were without leadoff hitter/shortstop Nick Derr.
Geneva coach Matt Hahn was pleased with the representation of the Tri-Cities teams.
"It's good for the conference, it's good on all kinds of levels," said Hahn.
It should be good for local baseball fans as well.
During my summer work as an usher for the Kane County Cougars, I've been fortunate enough to have gotten an up-close-and-personal look at some of the top prospects in the Chicago Cubs' organization.
Although their on-field record has been somewhat disappointing (50-70 entering the week), there have been plenty of positives provided throughout the 2013 season.
Albert Almora, the Cubs' top pick (No. 2 overall) of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft, is hitting .329 in 61 games. The 19-year-old center fielder has committed just 1 error while displaying leadership for manager Mark Johnson's squad.
Dan Vogelbach, the Cubs' second-round selection in 2011, belted 17 home runs with a team-high 71 RBI and a .284 batting average in 114 games for the Cougars before being promoted to Daytona (high Class A) earlier this month.
The burly 20-year-old left-handed hitting slugger smacked a 2-run home run in his Daytona debut on Aug. 13 against Clearwater.
Three-quarters of the starting infield consists of 19-year-old third baseman Jeimer Candelario (.253, 9 HR, 48 RBI), 20-year-old shortstop Marco Hernandez (.252, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 17 SB), and 20-year-old second baseman Gioskar Amaya (.266, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 13 SB).
And who can forget a name like Rock Shoulders (.255, 17 HR, 63 RBI), the Cougars' 21-year-old first baseman/left fielder?
Last week, the Cougars added a familiar name to their roster -- Gretzky.
No, not Wayne, arguably the greatest hockey player of all-time, but his son, Trevor, who was called up from Boise (short-season A) to take Vogelbach's roster spot.
Gretzky, 20, is a 6-4, 190-pound left fielder who was the Cubs' seventh-round selection in 2011.
I've seen plenty of wacky occurrences at sporting events during my time but one that will remain etched in my mind came during the Cougars' Aug. 9 game against the Burlington Bees at Geneva's Fifth Third Ballpark.
Right before the Cougars were about to bat in the bottom of the ninth, a skunk emerged near the first-base coaches' box, headed toward second base and made a casual walk in the outfield before workers escorted the mammal through the center field gate.
I was just glad it didn't head toward the stands.
On the mend
Several area athletes spent the summer months recovering from injuries, most notably St. Charles East's Dom Adduci (shoulder), Jake Asquini (back), TC Hull (knee), and Geneva's Anna Geary (knee).
• You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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