BELLEVILLE — With numerous jobs available in the everyday lineup and pitching rotation, Belleville East baseball coach Todd Blomberg has been pleased with the way his players have attacked the openings.
"The guys we were anticipating being our starters and leaders are really hungry to prove themselves," said Blomberg, whose 21-14 club won a regional title last spring before losing to Alton in the sectional. "They're going out every day to prove they deserve that starting spot, so we've had some very good practices."
The Lancers, who open the season with a 4:15 p.m. game Monday at Dupo, have won two regionals in the past three years.
"Our regular-season records are not over the top through the roof, but what we seem to do is make steady progress throughout the year," Blomberg said. "We keep getting better week after week and we hope to be peaking around playoff time and string together some wins at the end."
Among the few returning players is speedy senior outfielder Domonic Blaylock (.360, five doubles, five RBIs).
While Blaylock missed many of the preseason practices because of basketball, he roped a double in his first at-bat during an intrasquad scrimmage.
"He doesn't have a lot of power numbers, but he just gets on a base a lot," Blomberg said. "When he's on the bases, it drives the other team crazy and I really like that about him."
Also returning is senior center fielder Parker Hendricks (.234, two doubles, one home run, 15 RBIs).
"Throughout our first couple weeks of practice he's the guy that has consistently hit the ball the hardest," Blomberg said. "He didn't do that consistently last year, so we're looking for him to add a little more power and to be a big RBI guy for us."
Taking over the No. 1 spot in the pitching rotation is junior Brady Schanuel (1-0, 3.36 ERA), who also will play third base.
"He has really improved a lot from last year," Blomberg said. "We expect him to kind of carry our pitching staff."
Senior left-hander Austin Wilson (2-1, 1.46 ERA in 33 2/3 innings) had good success last season on the varsity while pitching mainly nonconference games. Blomberg plans on giving him plenty of opportunities against Southwestern Conference competition this season.
"He did a really nice job for us last year and we're hoping he's ready to take that next step," Blomberg said. "He's one of those sneaky-fast guys that can get the ball by you and his off-speed stuff is very good."
Blomberg also likes what he has seen from junior right-hander Aidan Cole and freshman Cody Freppon.
The catcher will be sophomore Drew Millas, the grandson of former Belleville East coach Larry Patton.
"He's got baseball in his blood and he's a very good catcher with a great understanding of the game," Blomberg said. "Offensively we need to get him going a little bit, but he's a switch-hitter and contact hitter -- and a guy that's got to produce for us."
Junior Nick Martin is at first base and junior Sheldon Howard will play second with senior Kevin Horner (.333, three RBIs) moving from second to shortstop.
Senior Jacob Parker (.250) and junior Dustin Stone are also in the outfield mix.
Former East first baseman Dean Gerros transferred to O'Fallon.