BELLEVILLE — It's hard for Belleville West baseball coach Lee Meyer to hide the optimism in his voice when discussing the 2013 Maroons.
They are experienced. They have plenty of pitching. And they are ready to challenge for a Southwestern Conference championship despite a wealth of talent in the league this season.
"We haven't had a senior group like this in a long time, especially a group that had the experience of playing and competing at a pretty high level last year," said Meyer, whose 2012 club was 22-15 and lost to O'Fallon in the regional championship. "We feel very good about our chances."
That doesn't guarantee any success for West in a league that includes several Division I recruits and numerous prospects.
"I really believe that this is one of the strongest years for our conference in a long time," Meyer said. "We have some incredible talent in the conference this year from just about every team."
A long list of returning starters includes senior first baseman Adam Bauer (.349, four triples, 21 RBIs; signed with Southwestern Illinois College), junior outfielder Brendan Saak (.337, three doubles, 12 RBIs) and senior shortstop Aaron Meyer (,324, 10 doubles, 19 RBIs; signed with John A. Logan College).
Senior catcher Austin Bammer (.286, five doubles, 14 RBIs) is coming off a strong American Legion season and senior third baseman Donnie Foster (.234, 11 RBIs) also returns along with senior outfielders Alex Sharos and Brayden James.
Coach Meyer has been coaching his son --and many of the other Maroons -- for what will be the final time.
He has coached many of them since they were youngsters.
"There's ups and downs with every season," Coach Meyer said. "There's a lot of fun in coaching your son, but it makes it that much more special when you've seen all these people on our team play for 10 years.
"They're good friends, they all have one goal in mind and that's to win. They work hard in practice and I like this team."
Also back for the Maroons is senior second baseman Nick Van Osdale, a starter at shortstop as a sophomore who sat out last season.
Van Osdale is an all-state basketball player headed to Division II Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., on a basketball scholarship. He hit .291 as a sophomore with four doubles and 10 RBIs.
"He had some good games as a sophomore, we'll see how he does this year," Coach Meyer said. "We feel like we have a lot of guys that could be impact players. With Nick not playing for a year, we don't know what will happen. He's missed a year but he's a good athlete."
Sophomore Jacob Wilson delivered three doubles and nine RBIs in limited duty last season.
The Maroons' pitching staff took a big hit with the loss of staff ace Ian Zimmermann (7-4, 2.06 ERA). But West returns plenty of quality arms led by senior Cory Renois (2-2, 1.92 ERA, junior Parker Beine (3-4, 4.61 ERA), Aaron Meyer (4-2, 2.10 ERA), Saak and Wilson.
"Cory pitched some quality games for us and competed very hard at the end of the season," Coach Meyer said. "Parker's looking very strong early this spring and had a good winter. He's a guy that's going to be a name in our conference as a pitcher."
Wilson could push his way into a larger role as the season progresses.
"He's a strong kid with a real strong arm," Meyer said.