While the Columbia Eagles are making the jump in baseball playoffs classification from 2A to 3A, their talent level and nine returning seniors should make that transition a little easier.
"We are looking at it as another challenge," said Columbia coach Keith Jany, whose 3-0 team knocked off 4A heavyweight O'Fallon 2-1 earlier this week. "Our 2A regionals have been very good over the last few years and last year we had four of the top five teams in the area in our regional.
"It's going to be a battle. That's why we play teams like O'Fallon and Belleville West to try to get us ready for that time of the year."
Jany's teams have won 20 or more games in each of his first four years as head coach, but the Eagles haven't won a regional since their 2007 Class A state championship season.
They have lost in the regional championship game in four of the last five years.
"We've had a tough time trying to fight out of our regional the last couple years and we're looking to change that," Jany said. "Even though we're 3A now, our goals haven't changed. There's a different feeling at practice this year. Maybe it's me with my old age, but they're having a lot of fun and they're confident."
Led by a pair of three-year starters in seniors Reed Greatting and Brendan DePoy, the Eagles should be one of the region's top teams regardless of class.
They were 24-7 overall last season, winning their fourth straight Cahokia Conference title.
DePoy was a first-team All-Area selection as a junior who signed with Division III Rhodes College in Memphis. He raked opposing pitchers last season for a .537 average with 16 doubles, three triples, three homers, 34 RBIs and 38 runs scored.
DePoy was 7-for-11 in his first three games (.636) with four doubles and two RBIs.
"He had some great numbers last year, but he's been swinging the bat well," Jany said. "Hopefully he can build on what he did last year, but that's going to be tough to do."
Greatting will play shortstop when he's not pitching. Jany said Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and several other schools have expressed interest.
"We're trying to find a good fit for him," Jany said of Greatting, who hit .387 last spring with five doubles and 20 RBIs.
Greatting (5-4, 1.93 ERA with two saves) and graduated senior Drew Bicklein had the most innings on the 2012 pitching staff.
Another offensive threat is senior outfielder Evan Dake (.327, five triples, 21 RBIs).
"He's got nice quick hands and he's strong," Jany said. "He hits the ball well."
Senior left fielder Cole Mallinckrodt (.333, six doubles, 25 RBIs) will hit cleanup with junior Camren Shewfelt, who missed most of last season with a groin injury, starting at third.
Senior infielder-pitcher Austin Floarke and senior catcher Brock Johns (16 RBIs) also return.
"The work ethic's been very good and so far they've been very focused," Jany said.
Another offensive source is gone with the absence of injured senior outfielder Hayden Landgraf. Landgraf, who suffered a knee injury at the start of basketball season, was among Columbia's top hitters in 2012 with a .350 average, eight doubles and 16 RBIs.
Jany has some solid choices among his pitchers, including Greatting, Blake Meyer (4-2, 2.63 ERA), junior Josh Fleming and Floarke.
Fleming held O'Fallon to one run and five hits in his first starter.
"With what we have back, if Josh can keep up what he did the other night we're going to have a lot of confidence throwing against anybody.," Jany said.
There will be plenty of familiar faces in a 3A regional that includes Columbia, Waterloo, Freeburg, Mascoutah, Cahokia and East St. Louis.