---- — It was a rude awakening for the defending 1A state champion St. Anthony Bulldogs in 2013, losing in their first game of the class 2A playoffs.
But they have their eyes turned on a different defense this fall: repeating as National Trail Conference champions.
After losing seniors Jacob Schuette, Charlie Schultz and Class 2A IHSCBA All-Stater Ben Hecht, coach Kenny Miller knows the team has some holes to fill and some problems to address.
The team's offense struggled last year with those seniors and the NTC is stronger than it was last year. But there's no drop in expectations for Miller and the Bulldogs.
"This is St. Anthony," Miller said. "As a coach, and as the kids, they have to expect to win. We've got problems, but we've got to solve the problems."
The offense will be centered around senior outfielder Austin Bushur, who totaled 22 RBIs and had a .421 batting average in the spring, neck and neck with Hecht's .422 average.
While the senior has some pop in his bat, the rest of the offense will be built around speed.
Miller said he's counting on Neil Williams and Jacob Lorenz to hit for high averages at the top of the lineup to set up Bushur, and use speed up and down the lineup to score runs.
"My big question mark is going to be how many runs are we going to score? Once we fall behind two or three, are we going to be able to score two or three?" he said. "We have pretty good speed up and down the lineup.
"We won't wait on the three-run homer. If we we're waiting on the three-run homer, we'll be waiting all year because we don't have a guy who can hit one."
Eli Dasenbrock, Braden Puckett, Neil Ritz and Alex Hoelscher are expected to fill out the middle of the lineup.
Hoelscher and Gardewine will anchor the pitching staff after being the second and third pitchers during the spring. The junior Gardewine broke through as a sophomore, going 5-3 with a 1.56 ERA in 49 innings in the spring.
While Hecht was a strikeout machine, Gardewine and Hoelscher aren't that kind of pitcher.
"We've got four guys that can step up there and throw strikes," Miller said, "It's going to be how much can we play defense. And after a week of practice, we're going to be better than average."
The younger members of the Bulldogs will have to step up as well. The team had seven seniors, but only seven sophomores and juniors combined.
"(Sophomore) Nick Grunloh has hit well enough where we might see some time," Miller said. "(Freshman) Bryar Jansen is pushing everybody. We're not big enough where I could afford to only play seniors."
They begin their conference title defense Monday when their season opens with a non-conference game with North Clay at 4:30 p.m. at Evergreen Park.
Seniors: Neil Williams, Austin Bushur, Scott Rentfrow, Neil Ritz, Eli Dasenbrock, Eric Gurtner, Alex Hoelscher
Juniors: Kyle Bourgeois, Jacob Lorenz, Zach Gardewine, Braden Puckett
Sophomores: Nick Grunloh, Will Clausius, Taylor Sears
Freshmen: Bryar Jansen, Brandon Puckett, Drew Gibson, Petyon Fearday, Cole Hoene, Ben Rudolphi