The Edwardsville Tigers and Valmeyer Pirates came up just short of claiming a state baseball championship a year ago, both finishing as runners-up in their respective classes.
Both return several players from those teams and should make runs again this spring.
Here are some of the top players expected to make major impacts for their teams this spring:
Ben Cruikshank, Belleville East, senior
Headed to Missouri State University, where he will be a member of the Bears baseball program, Cruikshank was one of the bright spots on a Lancers squad that finished 17-20 a year ago.
As a pitcher, Cruikshank finished with a 2-4 record and 3.53 ERA in 51 innings. He also batted .314 with 10 RBIs.
Drake Westcott, Edwardsville, sophomore
One of the top freshmen in the state a year ago when he was chosen to the MaxPreps Underclass All-American Team, Westcott is expected to be one of the top offensive threats for a Tigers team coming off a runner-up finish at the Class 4A state tournament last spring.
Already committed to attend the University of Louisville after graduating in 2020, Westcott, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound first baseman, has been named a preseason second-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
Westcott was one of the top players in the St. Louis area a year ago when he hit .435 with 12 home runs and 39 RBIs. The Tigers slugger is off to a good start this season, batting .800 with eight hits in 10 plate appearances for Edwardsville (2-0-1).
Quinten Albrecht, Waterloo, senior
Headed to play college baseball at Wichita State next year, Albrecht was a first-team all-area selection a year ago when he led the Bulldogs to a 26-9 record.
An excellent defensive backstop, Albrecht hit .412 with 5 home runs and 21 RBIs a year ago. The Bulldogs open their season Thursday when they travel to New Athens.
Jack Lugge, Freeburg, senior
Another in a long line of outstanding hitters to come through the Midgets' program, Lugge hit .376 with three home runs and 31 RBIs last season and should be one of the top infielders in the Cahokia Conference in 2018.
Lugge also had a slugging percentage of .584 for a Freeburg squad that finished 24-10 a year ago.
Shane Wilhelm, Columbia, junior
Verbally committed to attend the University of Missouri, where he will play for the Tigers in two years, Wilhelm is coming off an outstanding sophomore season. He was 6-2 with an ERA of 2.04 for the Eagles, who finished 22-11.
At the plate, Wilhelm hit .386 with three home runs and 19 RBIs.
Dylan Wilson, Central, senior
Headed to the University of Illinois on a full academic scholarship, Wilson is expected to be one of the top pitchers in the Cahokia Conference again this spring. The Cougars ace finished 8-0 with a 1.87 ERA last season for a team that finished with 25 wins and reached the Class 2A sectional.
Hayden Juenger, senior, and Josh Gibson, junior, O'Fallon
Both Juenger and Gibson will be playing their collegiate baseball at Missouri State and should once again be two of the leaders for a Panthers team that begin its season with three straight wins.
A transfer from Collinsville two years ago, Juenger was among the Panthers' top hitters and pitchers last season. Expected to be one of the top pitchers in the Southwestern Conference, Juenger was 7-2 with a 2.20 ERA in just less than 64 innings a year ago. As a hitter, he batted .359 with 23 RBIs.
Gibson, a starter in the Panthers' infield since his freshman season, is one of the top defensive shortstops in the St. Louis area and hit .371 with 3 home runs and 18 RBIs. O'Fallon finished 32-6 last season.
Cole Juelfs, senior, and Phillip Reinhardt, sophomore, Valmeyer
The Pirates were one of the feel-good stories a year ago when the places second at the Class 1A state tournament and won 28 games. Two players who figured heavily in the Pirates' postseason run, Juelfs and Reinhardt, return to lead a team loaded with young talent.
A year ago, Reinhardt finished with a 9-1 record and a 0.95 ERA in 13 outings. Reinhardt had five complete games and gave up only 51 hits in 66 innings. At the plate, he hit .360 with 27 RBIs.
Juelfs was nearly as effective on the mound, finishing 6-1 with a .248 ERA. Juelfs was also one of the Pirates' top offensive threats, hitting .429 with 17 RBIs.