The 2012 Wesclin Warriors baseball team proved regional seedings and area rankings mean little once the playoffs begin.
Seeded sixth out of six teams in a loaded regional, the Warriors knocked off Althoff, Columbia and Nashville to advance to the sectional, where they stated hot and then knocked off defending state champ Teutopolis in the super-sectional.
Wesclin (20-19) rode that magic all the way to a fourth-place finish at the Class 2A state tournament in Peoria. No one will take the Warriors lightly this spring with most of their position players returning.
"We lost pitching mainly, the three guys we did lose were all senior pitchers so they're going to have to be replaced," Wesclin coach John Groennert said. "Defensively and offensively we're going to be OK, but we've got to find somebody to step up on the mound for us."
Key losses are Alex Wilken, now playing basketball at Lindenwood-Belleville, while Justin Groennert is redshirting as a pitcher at Quincy University. The younger Groennert hurt his elbow in his first inning of fall baseball and had to undergo Tommy John ligament surgery.
Among the pitching hopefuls are senior Grant Weber (2-1, 4.64 ERA) and juniors Ryan Meddows (1-2, 3.82) and Kyle Eversgerd.
The top returning hitter is All-Area infielder Michael Klein, a junior who hit .366 with nine doubles, three triples, 15 stolen bases and 18 RBIs. Klein will be used primarily at shortstop.
Senior Alex Quitmeyer (.308, 10 doubles, three homers, 34 RBIs) returns at catcher and Eversgerd (.270, 17 RBIs) will see time at third and catcher.
Senior Chase Klein returning in center field and Keith Haselhorst (.266, 10 RBIs is in right, with Brett Mammenga (.240, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 12 stolen bases) being used at second base and Meddows at first.
Junior Brady Kunz, who didn't play baseball last spring, will start in left. Groennert sad sophomore Kenny Hagarty also pushing for playing time as a pitcher-outfielder.
"I think we are a little faster this year," Groennert said. "We've got some guys that can run and I like our outfield a lot."
Gibault (23-14): The Hawks won their first regional title since 1997 and enjoyed one of their strongest seasons in recent years.
They are off to a 3-0 start this spring despite the loss of seven seniors and four pitchers, outscoring their opponents 39-14.
The ace of the 2013 staff is 6-2 junior lefty Zach Neff (4-3, 1.72 ERA), who secured the win in the regional championship game.
"He has good stuff, good control and has added probably five mph to his fastball from last year," Gibault coach Andy Skaer said. "He's just so poised and is a fierce competitor."
Other pitching hopefuls include senior Matt Schreder, junior Chase Dugan, and juniors Nick McBride, Augie Ward and Adam Briesacher.
Schreder (.349, eight doubles, 32 RBIs) was a first-team All-Area pick as a junior, but the Hawks will be missing another big bat because of the finger injury suffered by shortstop Wes Degener (.337, 10 doubles, 18 RBIs) in basketball.
"He wants to get back as soon as possible," Skaer said. "At this point we might be looking at him defensively before he can swing a bat."
Junior Mitch Meyer (.297, 12 RBIs) returns in center field and Neff is among the hopefuls in left.
The catchers are senior Will Shepherd (.265, 22 RBIs) and Ryley Wallin, a transfer from Mascoutah. Sophomore Alex Skaer is also pushing for playing time.
Here are some of the area's other top returning small-school players:
Central senior Austin Rickhoff is a threat at the plate (.368, 11 doubles, 24 RBIs) and on the mound (4-1, 3.53 ERA). Senior Luke Jackson (5-4, 4.68) also returns and hit .341 with three homers and 21 RBIs. Senior shortstop Justin Becker (.344, 11 RBIs) is another solid player along with Luis Perez (.289, 15 RBIs).
Mater Dei and new coach Marvin Eversgerd should have one of the area's top pitchers in senior lefty Mitchell Langenhorst (8-4, 1.81 ERA, 73 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings. Senior outfielder Nolan Haake (.407, six doubles 21 RBIs) is the Knights' top returning hitter.
Red Bud is 4-0 and will rely heavily on Colin Wiegard (.423, 16 doubles, four triples, seven homers, 30 RBIs), while New Athens has several talented players led by Blake Ragland (.393, eight doubles, 16 RBIs), Tyler Meyer and pitcher Brandon Contrato (3-3, 1.54 ERA).