SHADY HILLS — After losing so many players off last year's state semifinalist squad, the Bishop McLaughlin baseball team didn't know what to expect entering this season. Well, early in the season, it's been business as usual.
The Hurricanes were 7-2 entering this week and appear to be one of the teams in contention again for a shot at the Class 3A state title.
"In a way, yes I am surprised," said coach Jeff Swymer, in his fifth year at the school. "We lost 11 seniors last year. I figured there would be a little bit of growing pains with new guys taking over new roles.
"We've played some good arms. We always have a target on our back. Because of our success, we get the best pitchers every time out. So, I'm a little surprised but it's also a credit to the kids."
Senior Cam Diaz and junior Bryce Carroll have been leading the charge.
Diaz is the team's leader on and off the diamond. He leads the team with five doubles to go with five RBIs. On the mound, the relief pitcher has a save in four appearances and a 1.83 earned-run average.
Carroll is second on the team with a .355 average. He has four doubles, five RBIs and six stolen bases as he has been moved from the sixth hole to leadoff.
Diaz likes what he's seen from the squad thus far.
"We've been performing well as a team," he said. "We've gotten good production from our whole lineup not just upper half. We have more people driving the ball this year — (seven) home runs, lots of doubles. We're really good offensively and we're putting the ball in play.
"Pitching wise, we have a lot more arms this year. We are a lot more deep in our rotation."
A couple of junior transfers from Mitchell have also helped stabilize the Hurricanes' squad. Derick Stager leads the Hurricanes with a .591 batting average, hits (13), stolen bases (seven) and walks (eight). He is also tied for the team lead in home runs (two) and runs-batted in (seven).
"Derick's bat in the lineup is the one that other team is afraid of," Carroll said. "Look at his stats! They intentionally walk him and pitch around him. He just gets on base and he's very good defensively."
Meanwhile, Justin Koehler has established himself as the team's top pitcher. He's 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA. Koehler has allowed just four earned runs (nine total), five walks and has 33 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings.
"He has a presence on the mound," Swymer said. "He's a competitive kid. He's fit in well."
And he's not just contributing on the mound. His bat has been strong as well. Koehler is batting .333 and leads the club with eight RBIs. He is tied with Stager for the team lead with 11 runs scored and is also tied with Stager with two homers.
Now the Hurricanes will use this time to fine tune to prepare for a playoff run. They're not taking anything for granted but still have high expectations.
"We want to get hot at the right time and make sure everyone's role is defined by the district tournament," Swymer said. "By then, we don't want no surprises, no emotions. We basically want to be robots at that point.
"If you don't, this is a tough district (eight-team Class 3A-4). Your season can be over real quick."