The Blair Oaks baseball team wants to take the next step.
The Falcons won their district at the Class 3 level for the first time in school history in 2012. Despite losing seven starters from a 21-5 squad that fell in the sectional round, head coach Harv Antle is optimistic about what's in store for 2013.
"The big thing for us was being able to win the district at the Class 3 level because that hadn't been done before," he said. "It was kind of a glass ceiling we were able to break through.
"Now that they know it's a possibility, I think it gives you confidence going into the next season. There's a carryover effect and there's enough guys coming back this year that were on last year's club that it makes them that much hungrier to take the next step."
The journey toward that next step begins with the season-opening contest at 5 p.m. today at New Bloomfield, weather permitting, of course.
"It may be interesting," Antle said about the opener. "It's probably the worst weather I've seen in 20 years. We haven't even touched the field. I think you could probably burn the tape after the first one. You're just trying to get in and survive.
"They just need to get those first couple games under their belts so they can relax and go play and remember how much fun it is to play."
The Falcons appear to have a strong pitching staff, led by seniors Jacob Koelling, a right-hander, and Kyler Maxey, a left-hander. Koelling went 5-3 last year with a 1.41 ERA in a team-high 592â„3 innings. Maxey went 4-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 29 innings. He also tossed a pair of no-hitters, including one against eventual Class 4 state champion Rockwood-Summit.
"That's a pretty good 1-2 punch and it's a good place to start," Antle said. "Those guys are going to be a key to any success that we have, and they're going to lead our pitching staff.
"They're not the only two arms. There's some other guys we're going to be able to throw out there. We're not void of options as far as arms on the mound."
That might include seniors Ryan Abbott, Austin Galbraith, Dustin Blomberg and even starting catcher Daniel Castillo.
Blair Oaks' revamped lineup is led by Castillo, who will find himself in the heart of the order for the second straight year. He hit .349 with a team-high 21 RBI last season and two home runs. Koelling and Maxey will be part of the 3-4-5 mix as well.
"Those are three pretty good thumpers," Antle said.
Antle has a pretty solid idea for the rest of the lineup as well.
Derek Otto looks set to lead off and play left field, while Hayden Haney figures to bat second and compete for the second-base job with Blomberg, and Maxey will play first when he's not pitching.
Abbott will play third base (along with Koelling) and bat sixth, Seth Eskens will hit seventh and play shortstop, center fielder Beau Distler will hit eighth and Logan Gratz is the early favorite for right field.
While Blair Oaks lost seven seniors off last year's team, a new group of seven seniors could be in the starting lineup today.
"That's a good place to be, because they're experienced and there's a little more of a sense of urgency," Antle said. "It's their last time around and they're wanting to leave a legacy."
With that leadership, the Falcons have their sights set high.
"Obviously a state championship is the goal every year," Antle said. "If you set the expectations any lower than that, then you're just setting yourself up for failure. Now do you reach that as often as you like? Obviously not. If you aim for the stars and you miss, you still may hit the moon. That's kind of what we felt like happened last year.
"Conference championship, defending our tournament titles and getting that district championship. There's a lot out there for these guys to shoot for. I think if we live up to our potential and play to our abilities, we'll be pretty satisfied with what happens."