BELLEVILLE — While his starting lineup is a work in progress, Belleville West baseball coach Lee Meyer hopes a solid pitching nucleus can keep the Maroons afloat in the Southwestern Conference race this spring.
"I think our pitching is going to be a strength," Meyer said of a mound staff anchored by Jefferson College recruit Parker Beine and fellow seniors Brendan Saak and Matt Klosterman. "If you had one area to call a strength, I'm glad it's pitching. If we can score some runs for them, I like our chances.
West was 21-13 last season, knocked out of the playoffs in the regional semifinals on a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh by Belleville East's Brandon Hoguet.
The Maroons were hit hard by graduation and three 2013 West graduates are now playing college ball: Aaron Meyer (Missouri State), Adam Bauer (Southwestern Illinois) and Cory Renois (Rend Lake).
Finding enough offense will be a high priority for a Maroons' club that doesn't have many big bats returning.
"We've got a new look this year and that's OK," Coach Meyer said. "It will be interesting to see if these guys rise to the occasion. The opportunity is there, especially on the infield."
West --which opens the season with an 11 a.m. doubleheader Friday at Parkway North in St. Louis --will replace its entire starting infield.
Meyer will be taking a look at numerous player combinations throughout the early going, but for now has Beine (.259, nine RBIs) and Mike Len at first, Trey Hopkins at second, Zach Skaer at short and Klosterman at third.
Also in the mix are Spencer Piquard, Jordan Krug, Richie Donald, Ryan Helfrich and Justin Wilson along with sophomores Cal Kossina and Wyatt Parker.
"It might take us a few weeks to get them in the right spots," Meyer said. "We're going to have to see them compete, and see them compete at the plate. Whoever hits is going to be in the lineup."
The catcher is junior Jacob Wilson (.174), now in his third season on the varsity and coming off an elbow injury. Junior Andrew Konya also could see time at catcher.
"We have some leadership and guys that have been there before, but overall there's a lot of new faces and inexperience," Meyer said.
The pitching should keep the Maroons in games led by Beine (6-5, 2.26 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings), Saak (3-3, 2.80 ERA) and Klosterman (0-2, 4.31 ERA). Junior Jacob Eccher also is looking for innings.
"Parker did a great job for us last year, he faced everybody and he's well known," Meyer said. "He's going to be our go-to guy this year."
Meyer doesn't believe Beine's recruiting process is done even though he's signed with Jefferson (Mo.) College.
"He had some D-1 interest and I'm very surprised that more people weren't knocking on his door," Meyer said. "He's at a great place with Jeffco, where they have a great track record of moving players and success, but it wouldn't surprise me if something else doesn't come through for him."
Saak (.207, three doubles, six RBIs) returns to anchor the outfield in center, with senior John Dozier (.235) in right and seniors Ethan Lewis and Evan Meirink battling in left.
While the Southwestern Conference was hit hard by graduation, plenty of talent returns for numerous teams. Collinsville pitcher and University of Missouri recruit Tanner Houck and Granite City catcher Chad Spanberger, headed to Arkansas, are both being considered for the major league draft.
"We all lost quality seniors, but in this conference everybody reloads and goes from there," Meyer said.