After coming painfully close to a state baseball tournament trip last season, the Carlyle Indians have enough weapons in their arsenal to at least entertain thoughts of reaching Peoria in 2014.
Carlyle (26-8) won regional and sectional titles before losing 5-2 to Teutopolis in the Class 2A Sauget Super-Sectional with a state semifinal berth on the line.
"We have the same expectations we had last year, trying to get to state," said Carlyle coach Dusty Barr, whose squad features numerous three- and four-year starters led by Quincy University recruit Matt Hilmes and McKendree recruit Logan Zachry. "That's always the goal, but especially when you return so much. The area's strong this year, so it will be tough."
The Indians have won three of their first four games and figure to challenge Freeburg and others for the Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division title.
Five veteran starters return for the Indians led by 6-foot-3, 200-pound first baseman-pitcher Hilmes (.358, four homers, nine doubles, three triples, 31 RBIs; 5-1, 1.70 ERA 47 strikeouts in 37 innings.
"During our playoff stretch last year, he started going from a guy that sprayed the ball over the field to a guy that really looked to drive the ball," Barr said of Hilmes, an all-state basketball player who had three homers during Carlyle's playoff run and belted two in one game earlier this season.
Other key returnees are senior infielder-outfielder and Anderson University recruit John Becker (.298, 10 doubles, two triples, five homers, 26 RBIs) and senior pitcher-shortstop and McKendree recruit Logan Zachry.
Becker was 3-1 on the mound last spring with a 2.37 ERA.
Zachry, a first-team All-Area pick along with Hilmes, was 6-2 last spring as the staff ace with a 1.48 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings. He also hit .245 with 14 RBIs.
Also returning are senior catcher-designated hitter Hunter Johnson, junior outfielder Tommy Cummins (.236, one homer, 15 RBIs) and junior infielder-pitcher Ethan Huge (1-1, 1.87 ERA).
With a pitching staff arguably as deep as any team in the area, the Indians can trot out four legitimate starters in Zachry, Hilmes, Becker and Huge.
"Pitching and defense are the things we can control and offense ... some days you have it and some days you don't," Barr said. "We should be competitive because we can run an arm out there day-in and day-out that's going to give us a chance."
The other starters are all sophomores --outfielder Grant Carman, second baseman Adam Alexander and pitcher-first baseman-designated hitter Ryan Rakers.
With Carlyle returning so much talent, some may be overlooking the Freeburg Midgets. That would be a big mistake because like Carlyle, Freeburg returns the nucleus of a lineup that included numerous players that have started for several seasons.
Senior pitcher-catcher Nick Yung (3-1, 1.27 ERA, four saves, 35 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings; .330, 14 doubles, 28 RBIs) is back along with senior pitcher Milton Pinkston (3-3, 2.15 ERA, 43 strikeouts in 52 innings),.
Junior outfielder Derricke Rozycke, 6-for-9 three RBIs in Freeburg's first two games, hit .304 last season with five doubles, 15 RBIs.
Senior infielder Chris Smith (.303, 10 doubles, 18 RBIs) also returns along with senior pitcher-infielder Kile Bailey (.222, 13 RBIs, 3-3, 3.76), junior Cody Siebenberger and sophomore Keegan Baxmeyer.
Led by Kaskaskia College recruits Keegan Anderson and Hunter Beetley, the Nashville Hornets are hoping for a deep playoff run similar to the one that got them to triple overtime in the Class 2A state basketball championship game.
The Hornets eventually lost to Bloomington Central Catholic.
Anderson is the No 1 pitcher and Beetley is a first baseman-outfielder.
Also returning are hard-hitting senior catcher Jordan Harre, senior left fielder Bryce Styninger, senior center fielder Kyle Jasper, junior right fielder Daniel Thorson and junior Dylan Mueller. Senior Christian Spenner returns at designated hitter.
Wesclin has one of the area's top players in Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit Michael Klein, who missed the entire basketball season because of offseason ankle injury that required surgery.
Klein (.412, 11 doubles, two triples, one homer, 21 RBIs) has returned to active duty and should help carry the load for the Warriors along with Brady Kunz (.329, five RBIs), Ryan Meddows (.278, two homers, 19 RBIs) and Kyle Eversgerd (.286, four doubles, nine RBIs).
Also look for big things from Jared Timmermann and Brendan Bernhardt.
Meddows (6-0, 2.39 ERA) and Eversgerd (2-1, 2.63 ERA) will help anchor the pitching staff.