ST. ELMO —
Five lettermen return from last season's 20-7 Eagles team, and coach Ryan Beccue hopes that group can help form a battle-tested nucleus to build this year's squad around.
St. Elmo finished the fall with a .500 record at 10-10, but the 14-year coach will call upon a handful of upperclassmen to again turn the Eagles into a formidable foe this spring.
"These guys will have to produce in many areas for us," Beccue said, "including providing leadership on and off the field. I believe this team can compete if we can get the most out of what we have."
St. Elmo's success begins with pitcher Connor Beasley. The 6-4 senior is an intimidating figure on the mound, and picked up both first-team All-NTC and EIC honors this fall. Beasley also posted a 7-3 record and 1.54 ERA.
"Connor is once again the ace of our staff and will be heavily counted on to give us solid innings," Beccue said.
He will also play shortstop when he's not on the mound, and Beasley is threat at the plate as well. Beccue plans to use the multi-tooled player right in the heart of the order.
"[He will] hit three or four in the lineup," Beccue said. "He is capable of putting up some big numbers."
Completing the battery is a familiar face for Beasley, senior catcher Garrett Bartels. Bartels batted .291 last spring and added 17 RBIs at the plate, with Beccue expecting even bigger things this spring.
"Garett is now our everyday catcher after taking over for graduated Ben Sperry this fall," he said. "We will need even more production from him in his last season."
A trio of juniors round out the returning lettermen from last season in Levi Maxey, Dalton Parks and Nick Bauer. Maxey has shown signs of potential thus far, driving in 25 RBIs and stealing 14 bases while hitting .250 at the plate in 2012.
"Levi has shown the potential to become a very good all-around player," Beccue said. "He shows flashes of what he can do in all areas of the game. Now its just a matter of putting it all together and becoming more consistent."
Maxey earned second-team All-EIC honors this fall, and will play mainly at shortstop. He will also be one of four pitchers that Beccue calls upon for a solid outing on the mound.
Parks had a breakout fall both in the outfield and at the plate, hitting .314 and picking up a spot on the All-EIC first team. Like Maxey, he will carve out a spot at another position, but will also be featured on the mound.
"He brings a change of pace to our pitching staff and has been a nice surprise in that regard," Beccue said. "You will never question whether or not Dalton is ready to play."
Fellow outfielder Nick Bauer is the last returning starter, and Beccue hopes he can continue to improve his fielding to give the Eagles some added defensive prowess.
"He has become much more aggressive in going and getting the ball," Beccue said. "He will need to keep up this improvement."
A pair of freshmen could see significant time this spring, with Malachi Maxey at second base and Noah Flowers at third. Noah will likely log double duty, filling in on the pitcher's mound to help complete the rotation.
"[He] will be counted on to log some important innings on the hill this spring," Beccue said.
Malachi started for the Eagles at second this fall, but recently suffered a broken hand and will be out of the lineup for at least three weeks. In spite of the injury, both Malachi and Flowers looked solid in their first fall season of varsity action.
"Noah and Malachi stepped right into the starting lineup this fall and performed very well. They both play good defense and are not afraid of playing ball with the older guys."
Without Malachi in the early parts of the grind, Parks will be play some second base and Bauer will slide to center field.
Ben Davis, a senior transfer, lettered this fall at first. Beccue is pleased with how the first baseman has adjusted to his new team.
"He has caught on very quickly and has made steady improvements," Beccue said. "He has filled a hole as our first baseman quite nicely."
Beccue believes the key to St. Elmo's success rests on defense, where the Eagles will look to be an efficient ball club in the field.
"This team won 10 games this fall by playing good defense," he said. "We must continue to field the ball while we try to improve offensively."
Though the 10-10 fall record may not intimidate many opponents early in the season, Beccue believes his squad will make some by year's end.
"Once we get completely healthy and once we get several games under our belts," he said, "I think this team will be one that you don't want to take lightly."