The Valmeyer Pirates were the talk of Monroe County last spring when they advanced to the title game of the Class 1A State Baseball Tournament.
A talented and close-knit group of players, the 2017 Pirates' roster featured, among others, senior third baseman Easton Wallace, juniors Cole Juelfs and Jake Krekel, and highly touted freshman Philip Reinhardt.
But a year after advancing to their first high school state baseball tournament, where they would drop a 6-2 decision to Peoria Heights, the current Pirates squad appears ready for a return trip to Dozer Park.
And with many players who competed on the Valmeyer junior high teams that won a pair of state titles now contributing at the varsity level, the pressure to get back to Peoria won't be a factor.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
"We have a few seniors like Drew Maus and Jake Krekel who keep it loose. This group has had high expectations placed on them since junior high," Valmeyer coach Greg Reinhardt said.
Currently 23-7 after edging Cahokia Conference rival New Athens 4-3 earlier this week, the Pirates' postseason is about to begin. After completing its regular season Saturday against Columbia, Valmeyer begins postseason play Wednesday at the Metro East Lutheran regional.
Philip Reinhardt, the coach's son, leads a deep and strong Pirates hitting attack. One of 10 Valmeyer players hitting over .300, Reinhardt carries a .458 average with 22 RBI. Among the other nine are Tyler Kempfer (4.15, 2 HR 27 RBI), Krekel (.359, 16 RBI) and Maus (.340, 31 RBI). Juelfs, the Pirates' leadoff hitter is batting .386 with 38 runs scored.
Michael Chism (.342) and Andrew Whipple (.351) have also been solid at the plate.
Reinhardt, who was 9-1 with a 0.95 ERA a year ago as a freshman, remains the Pirates' ace on the mound. Only 2-2 , the Pirates southpaw has a 1.37 ERA and has allowed just 22 hits while striking out 49 hitters in 38 innings. Maus (5-1, 2.54 ERA) and Juelfs (5-1, 2.13 ERA) give the Pirates one of the top pitching trios in Southern Illinois.
The Pirates also are battle-tested. Despite going winless at the O'Fallon Tournament, the Pirates played excellent competition in Class 4A O'Fallon, 3A Triad and 3A Normal University High School.
"With us being in the O'Fallon Tournament the last few years, it really challenges our hitters and pitchers. Last year it really helped us prepare to see better pitchers down the road," Reinhardt said.
"This team is very deep in pitching and hitting, and has all the tools to make it deep in postseason. With our experience from last year, it should only help get us back to Peoria. We want another shot at it."