Southwestern Illinois College baseball coach Neil Fiala uses the fall portion of the season to experiment with different combinations, give pitchers a chance to showcase their arms and position players a chance to get some at bats.
Last fall, Fiala liked what he saw.
"We think our position players are pretty good and that we'll able to match up with anybody we play,'' Fiala said. "Pitching-wise we don't have anybody who is going to blow hitters away with 90-mph fastballs. But we think they'll be able to compete and do a good job that way.
"We're just anxious to get started and see what we can do.''
Despite several key injuries to its pitching staff, SWIC finished 32-27 last season. The Blue Storm opens its 2013 campaign Sunday at South Georgia College, in the first two games of a five-game southern road trip.
SWIC's home opener will be Feb. 27 against Webster University.
Fiala said the four-day trip will provide a chance for all of his pitchers to get some work in warm weather.
"We don't have anybody ready to go the full seven or nine innings, so all of the pitchers should get some work. It will give us a chance to see what we've got,'' Fiala said. "Last year, we had a good year considering we lost a couple of pitchers (Sean Hulse and Miles Quintal) to injuries early in the year.
"We also lost a lot of close one and two runs ball games. But we're excited about what we have this year. That's for sure.''
Fiala will get a good chance to see what he's got to work with on the mound during the next four days. Sophomore A.J. Crutchfield (Waterloo) was 6-2 with a 4.40 ERA a year ago and should anchor the staff along with returnees Zach Sedlacek (Edwardsville) and Caleb Tatum (Dupo).
Three freshman -- Kyle Wilson (O'Fallon), Ian Zimmermann (Belleville West) and Dustin Dalton (Francis Howell North) -- also are in the running for stating assignments this weekend.
Sophomore Dustin Pendegraft (Lebanon), Matt Biovan (Edwardsville) and Derek Dillenberger (Waterloo) will all pitch out of the bullpen.
Hulse, a former Belleville West standout, is still bothered by a sore arm which sidelined him last season.
"We don't really know yet with Sean. He came back last summer, but now his arm is a little tight, a little tender again,'' Fiala said. "We're just going to wait and hope for the best.''
Matt Sellers (Lebanon), Tycen Wager (Mascoutah) and Jacob Dobbelare (Perryville, Mo.) are other pitchers Fiala will rely on this season.
Back to lead the Blue Storm offense are sophomores Ryan Simmons and Clayton Meyer. A shortstop, Simmons hit .297 with a team-record nine triples last season.
Meyer, who will patrol left field, batted .316. Simmons is from Oakville, Mo., while Meyer is a Fort Zumwalt East graduate.
Freshman John Goodrich has been impressive at third base and along with Simmons and Meyer will be at the top of the batting order to start the season.
Sedlacek, who at 6-foot-8, 240 pounds will be an opposing presence on the mound, also will play first base and start the season as the Blue Storm's cleanup hitter.
Goodrich and catcher Mark Hencken (Eureka, Mo.) have been the most impressive freshman in the early going.
Sophomore J.B. Arnold (Seckman, Mo.) returns in center field. Others battling for time in the outfield include Jonah Zink (North Clay), Gabe Hopkins (Waterloo) and Cody Russell (Hillsboro, Mo.)
Speedy Cameron Lofton (Belleville West) also performed well in the preseason workouts and will see playing time.
Former Red Bud standout Adam Kunkel will complete the Blue Storm infield at second base to start the year. Others who will see playing duty on the infield include Jordan Barnett (Edwardsville), Brett Warchol (Nashville), Cody Zurliene (Lebanon) and Konnor Huffman (Mascoutah).
Another strength of the Blue Storm will be at catcher, where Hencken appears to be a top prospect. Lucas Wetzler (Waterloo) also is a front-line catcher and will see playing time, while sophomore Cody Calvert (Alton) will be a designated hitter and backup catcher.
Fiala said defensively, the Blue Storm should be very good.
"Like I said, we're excited. We feel our defense is very good and that's important to be able to help out the pitching staff,'' Fiala said. "On paper we look good and we've looked good in our preseason scrimmages. Now we've got to see how we do against other teams in game situations.''