(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- Coming off a 17-8 campaign that ended with a 3-0 loss to Scott City in the Class 2, District 3 title game, the Charleston Bluejays enter this season with a beefed up schedule in hopes of making a deeper push into the post season.
"We're going to play some big schools and see how we stack up," Bluejays' head coach Michael Minner said. "Not so much to see if we're as good as them or better, we just want to be prepared when it comes district tournament time.
"We've won some games in the past in the regular season, but were we really battled tested at the end of the year? I'm not real sure."
Some of the bigger matchups added this year include an early season tournament in Jackson against Union, North County and the hometown Indians as well as a April 14 game against Notre Dame.
While those types of opponents won't make it easy for the Bluejays to improve on last season's record, Minner hopes that a deep playoff could be the end result.
"If we've only won four (regular season) games, hopefully those four games are valuable to us and the losses this year will get us ready to compete in the district tournament as well," he said.
Returning for the Bluejays will be a senior laden group that includes last year's one through four hitters Marshall Stallings, James Naile, Ethan Browning and Danny McKinney.
Leading the team on the mound last year, Naile went 7-4 with a 1.21 earned run average while battling over .350.
Nail was also named first team All Standard-Democrat while Stallings and Browning earned second team honors.
"We've all been playing together for awhile.," Naile said of the seniors. "This has been the same team for the past three years that we've made it to the district championship game a couple times with.
"We've won some big games and hopefully we can do that again this year."
Browning added the team's taking last year's disappointing finish and using it as motivation heading into this year.
"Everybody is just kind of jumping in and doing what they need to do," he said of practice. "Last season ended bad for us and everybody knows that so we're just kind of jumping on the gun and trying to get after it.
"We take that as just giving us more drive this year in practice. Not only practice, but in games and everything else, just kind of pushing us to do better and get that district championship this year."
Kicking off the season Monday, the Bluejays will host Portageville at 4:30 p.m.
"I think we'll be right there where we were last year," Stallings said of expectations for the team. "But I'm hoping for the district championship this year."