BELLEVILLE — Having one of the area's top hitters and several other returning senior starters should help keep the Belleville East Lancers competitive as they embark on another rough journey through the Southwestern Conference baseball trail.
"Every year it seems like you're replacing some important pieces, but we took a big hit losing a lot of seniors last year," said Belleville East coach Todd Blomberg, whose team was 22-12 last spring and lost to rival Belleville West in the first game of the regional.
Senior center fielder Marty Brunk, who hit .444 with eight doubles, two homers and 26 RBIs a year ago, anchors the Lancers lineup. Illinois State and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville are among the schools showing early interest.
"If he performs even remotely like he did last year, he'll have some nice college choices at the end of the season," Blomberg said. "He's a baseball junkie, just always doing something with baseball. He's a straight natural hitter, too.
"He can do it all; he can hit singles and doubles, hit the ball the other way, whatever. He's a very well-schooled hitter."
Senior catcher Lucas Weisbrodt (.314, four doubles, one homer, eight RBIs) and senior third baseman-pitcher Brandon Hoguet (.297, four doubles, 11 RBIs; 1-0, 2.72 ERA) are also being counted on heavily.
"He's been smashing the baseball," Blomberg said of Hoguet. "We can't wait to play a game just so we can see how he does, because he's a guy that's been hitting everything off the right part of the bat."
Senior Danny Snyder (.286, three doubles, 15 RBIs) is moving from second base to shortstop and senior Sam Bassett may see time in the outfield after being used primarily as a pitcher last spring.
Junior Parker Hendicks also will start in the outfield.
After that, several new faces will step into starting roles trying to replace graduated seniors like current college freshmen Alex Siddle (Southeast Missouri), Austin Bartle (St. Joseph's) and Darius Box (Rend Lake).
Senior second baseman Nathan Schmittling (.238, six RBIs) and junior first baseman Dean Gerros are among that group.
"These guys have waited their turn and they're looking to show you what they can do," Blomberg said. "They're very anxious and they've worked very hard."
Bassett (5-2, 2.13 ERA, 39 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings) will help anchor the mound staff along with Hoguet, Brunk, Snyder, fellow seniors Andrew Weaver and Schmittling (1-0, 1.50 ERA) and juniors Hendricks and Domonic Blaylock.
Blaylock could also see time in the outfield, while Blomberg said senior Anthony Garza could pitch as well as play third base when Hoguet is pitching.
"After Sam and Brandon, we know we have guys that can pitch," Blomberg said. "We just don't know how it's going to roll out there. We feel comfortable with probably eight to 10 guys we could actually throw, but in terms of starting that's actually up in the air right now."
Like other Southwestern Conference coaches, Blomberg marvels at the talent level this season with numerous Division I recruits and college prospects sprinkled throughout the league.
"It's crazy, this could be one of the best overall talent years in the conference," Blomberg said. "It's going to be fun to watch them. I definitely like our group. I think we can challenge anybody on any give day and I see us in the top tier of the conference."
Columbia at Edwardsville, 6 p.m.
Highland at Triad, 5:45 p.m.
Gibault at Notre Dame, 4 p.m.
Freeburg at Alton, 4:30 p.m.
Central at Greenville, 4:30 p.m.
Jerseyville at Metro-East Lutheran, 4:30 p.m.
Wesclin at Wood River, 4:30 p.m.
Waterloo at Civic Memorial, 5:30 p.m.