ORAN -- The Oran Eagles' run of three straight Class 1 district titles was interrupted in 2005 when they were edged out by the Advance Hornets.
Resuming its recent district championship dominance -- eight in 12 years -- won't be an easy task with experienced Advance returning all of its key players, but the Eagles certainly can't be counted out.
"We've got a lot of hard work to do," said Oran coach Mitch Wood, who has guided the Eagles to five state playoff appearances. "We're still young in a lot of spots and right now we're struggling a little bit with injuries, but there's lots of tradition behind them and, hopefully, they'll step up to the challenge. If we can get to the same situation we were in last year, as far as making it to the district final, even down to the last inning, I'd take it."
Oran, trailing 2-1 in the district final, put runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of seventh inning, but baserunning gaffes wiped out the threat.
"Hopefully, if it comes down to the same situation, I think we'll be able to pull it off this year," said Wood. "The big key is for us to go back to playing good sound fundamental baseball. Hopefully, we've grown up."
As for the Eagles' injury situation, two of their top players as well as No. 1 and 2 pitchers, junior Chase Seyer and senior Matt Bucher, have been sidelined.
Seyer, Oran's ace, has been bothered with back ailments and has been unable to practice. The lefty Seyer, just a .500 pitcher at 5-5 last season, however, posted a sparkling 1.50 ERA in front of a young defensive unit while drawing all the team's tough assignments. His return is uncertain.
Bucher has been hospitalized until recently with various health issues. Wood hopes he'll return next week.
When not on the mound, Bucher mans the all-important shortstop position. "He's one of the kids who really came in focused this year and was looking tough before he got sick," said Wood. "It's going to take a little time, but he's a senior and he'll work hard to get back to where he was at."
Even with the injury difficulties, the Eagles field a solid crew.
Oran returns its leading offensive producer from last season, sophomore Caleb Seyer. One of the top players in the area, Seyer was a first-team all-
stater as a freshman, the only freshman in the state to be so honored.
Center fielder Seyer led the Eagles in every major offensive category: .418 batting average, nine home runs, 37 runs scored, 33 RBIs, .813 slugging percentage.
Said Wood, "He's focused, he's stronger and he's more mentally tough. But, baseball's a game of inches and he could hit the ball a lot harder this year and still not put up the numbers he had last year, plus they're going to try to pitch him different."
Sophomore Kody Campbell, the team's second leading hitter with a .350 average last year, is capable at both middle infield positions.
Joey Williams, a senior catcher, completes a strong up-the-middle combination of Bucher, Campbell and (Caleb) Seyer. Williams hit .328 with 16 RBIs last season.
Versatile senior Austin Dumey, who hit .330, will get time at first and third base and also see mound duty.
Woods predicts he'll start three sophomores and a freshman early.
Sophomore Tyler Beardslee will likely get the nod at shortstop until Bucher's ready and freshman Luke Carter is challenging for a starting outfield position.
Junior Chris Asmus will find playing time in the outfield, infield and pitching.
"Many of these kids will be asked to play different roles," Wood said.
Alex Chastain, a sophomore, should be No. 3 or 4 on the pitching depth chart.
Others counted on for help are sophomores Alex Daniels ("a big kid, hits it a mile") and Cody Dirnberger. Freshman pitcher Jaden Pobst could be a diamond in the rough.
"I just don't know if he's ready for this yet," said Wood. "He's a good thrower, but he's just a freshman and he's got a lot of mechanical problems right now, but I think once we get his mechanics lined out, he's going to throw pretty good.
"And he's going to get a chance to throw pretty quick, it looks like, with the other two (Chase Seyer and Bucher) out."
Still, pitching figures to be a strength of the Eagles.
"I've got five or six kids that I wouldn't mind handing the ball to tomorrow," said Wood, "and anytime you can do that in Class 1, you've got to be feeling pretty good about things. When I get them all healthy, my pitching and defense should be solid again."
Once again, Oran dodges no one with another tough schedule on tap.
One highlight is a tournament in St. Charles on Easter weekend. Oran will be the only small school represented in a field of Class 3 and 4 schools.
"We always try to go to Springfield or St. Louis and play some bigger schools," said Wood. "I think it helps you at the end of the year. We've been to the state tournament three out of last four years and we've seen good pitching up to tournament time and I think that helps."
In those three tournament trips, Oran has captured a third and two second places.
How does Wood assess his team's preseason progress?
"We're struggling right now doing some things," he said, "but this group's looking good as far as working hard and that's all I ask them to do, work hard.
"We really made some young and dumb mistakes last year, which is uncharacteristic of our ballclubs, and we've really been focusing a lot on fundamentals."
Oran opens its season Friday against Zalma at home.