Before the season, Wheaton North’s Jackson Gray didn’t question his hitting or pitching abilities.
After establishing himself as a regular contributor on the mound and at the plate while playing numerous positions, including in the outfield the past two years, Gray, a senior, endured some doubt about his new position in the infield.
He was set to play first base for the first time in his career.
“I had never played first base, and I had some problems in the summer, so I wasn’t really confident in how I would do,” Gray said. “Summer was rough, but I’m surprisingly fielding well.”
Twenty-eight games into his final season, Gray has proved to be adept at handling the corner position. Gray is one of the Falcons’ top hitters, pitchers and fielders. The Falcons were 18-11 and 14-7 in the DuPage Valley heading into the week.
“I’m really happy with how my season [has] been because I’ve worked hard,” Gray said.
On the mound, Gray, a right-hander, is one of the leaders on the pitching staff with a 6-1 record. He’s batting .367 with 22 RBIs and tops the team in stolen bases.
“Jackson’s season is going really well,” Wheaton North coach Dan Schoessling said. “He’s doing great on the mound, is hitting well and great on the bases. We wanted to move him to first base to take some pressure off his arm after he pitches. We were really counting on him for big things. He had a great summer for us. He’s definitely come through for us.”
Last season, Gray played mostly in the outfield before his move to first base. After a big summer season in the Falcons’ extended playoff run, he quickly showed he was ready to be a big-time contributor in the spring.
Gray, a captain, is headed to Washington University in St. Louis to play baseball next season. Gray said he relies on five pitches and credits his improved hitting to being more confident.
“I’m more confident at the plate and that has really helped me,” he said.
Senior Connor Olson, a third baseman, is another player critical to the Falcons’ quest for a postseason run. Olson is batting .365 with 25 RBIs and is one of the leaders in runs scored.
Olson opened the season batting second in the lineup before being moved to the three-hole. Gray batted in the cleanup spot until taking over Olson’s previous position in the batting order. The Gray-Olson duo had a big game in Wheaton North’s 9-8 loss to Naperville Central on May 9. Gray hit two homers and Olson drove in five runs.
“Connor gets on base and also runs the bases really well,” Schoessling said. “He’s doing nice in the field for us. As a team, when we are fielding the ball well, we are in every game. We have a good offensive team and are good on the mound, so those days when we field it well, we are usually successful.”
Pitcher Jon Vesevick is one of the main factors in the Falcons hovering close to the 20-win mark. The senior left-hander is 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA. He ended Neuqua Valley’s 22-game winning streak earlier this season, and also handed the Wildcats their lone regular-season loss last season.
The Falcons open the Class 4A playoffs May 23 against the winner of the Conant and Bartlett quarterfinal. Wheaton North lost to Glenbard North in a Class 4A regional semifinal last season.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” Gray said. “We had an early exit in the playoffs last season and want to do better this year.”
Grant Lalla had two hits and three RBIs in Glenbard West’s 16-0 win over Proviso West on May 15. Brett Potter and Matt Shellady combined on a three-hitter, each striking out four, in the Hilltoppers’ 5-1 win over Willowbrook on May 12. At the plate, Ryan Petersen had four hits and Joe Peraino had two hits and two RBIs. Jack Campanella had four hits and two RBIs in Glenbard West’s 10-0 win over Downers Grove North on May 10. Kyle Engstrom had two hits and three RBIs, and Joey Ciero struck out seven in an 11-1 win over Downers Grove North on May 8.