The Helias Crusaders enter the baseball season with more than few questions to be answered.
One reason is good - the Crusaders have a handful of baseball players competing this weekend in the Class 4 basketball Final Four.
The other is not so good - the injury bug has taken a big bite.
"Between basketball and injuries, we're just not sure where we are right now," Helias coach Chris Wyrick said as the Crusaders prepare to open the season today with games against Jefferson City and Glendale in Springfield.
"The competition level will step up once we get everybody back an everybody healthy. But we have to go to Springfield with who we have and we're going to make the best of it. Everybody has been giving a great effort to get better."
Alec Barton, Brock Gerstner and Adam Bax are all spending the weekend at Mizzou Arena.
"If they were here from Day One, they'd probably be starting for us," Wyrick said.
Barton earned all-state honors at catcher for the Crusaders last year. Gerstner would be starting in the outfield, while Bax would be on the infield.
On the injury front, Alex Faddoul is still recovering from an ankle injury suffered in football. Wyrick, who said Faddoul likely would be the starting shortstop, believes the sophomore will return in the next couple of weeks.
Todd Buschjost underwent arm surgery and is not able to throw, but is expected to be back in a couple of weeks as well at second base.
"Getting those two back will solidify our infield and get some other players back to their natural positions," Wyrick said.
The Crusaders figure to be deep in pitching this year with Matt Rehagen, Wyatt Porter, Andy Devine. Cole Donaldson, Clayton Winter, Austin Sachse and Garrett Buschjost all figuring to see time on the mound.
"We have a group of capable pitchers that can go out there and give us a chance, make us play defense and take it from there," Wyrick said.
In last weekend's Jamboree in Springfield, Helias pitchers combined to allow six hits and four walks while striking out six in nine innings.
"If you can do that, maybe cut the walks down, that will give you a chance to compete," Wyrick said.
Rehagen pitched in several big games for the Crusaders last season, picking up victories against Rockhurst and Cape Giraradeau Notre Dame.
"He's not going overpower anybody, he has to hit his spots," Wyrick said. "But he throws strikes and he can get people out."
Porter has been impressive in practice after sitting out last season.
"When he gets ahead and keeps the ball down, he's really tough," Wyrick said.
That will be important for the Helias staff as a whole.
"That's going to be the key for all of our guys," Wyrick said. "We can be effective when we do that."
Garrett Buschjost will start at catcher this weekend, but will move to the infield when Barton returns.
The battle for the job at first base includes Bax, Rehagen, Chase Bexten and Trystan Bax. Vying for time at second are Todd Buschjost, Devine and Alex Warner. Will Blankenship will see time at shortstop, while third base is a competition between Winter, Ryan Bounds and Adam Bax.
Outfielders include Hayden Lee, Gerstner, Sachse, John Rhea and Bexten
With a number of players at every position, nobody has claimed a starting position in the long term.
"They will earn their spot or they won't," Wyrick said. "It's all about competition, nobody is going to be given anything, they have to earn it."
The Jamboree showed Wyrick the Crusaders have work to do at the plate.
"We pitched OK and played decent defense, we just didn't have a lot of offense," he said. "Up to then, we hadn't had a lot of at-bats outside, but we've been working on that with more intersquad games. That gives us a chance to see more live pitching and work on game-situations that you can't replicate in a normal practice."
In the biggest schedule change, Helias has added the Kirksville Tournament and gotten out of the Capital City Invitational.
"We were just looking for something different," Wyrick said.
Helias has a total of 28 games on the schedule, which includes five Saturday doubleheaders.
"I'll be surprised if we get all 28 in, but it will be very competitive schedule for us," Wyrick said.
Helias will open the home schedule Saturday, March 29, with games against Quincy (Ill.) Notre Dame and Kirksville.