After a break of more than 16 months, the Helias Crusaders are more than ready to get back on the baseball diamond.
"They're working hard and doing what we're asking," Helias coach Chris Wyrick said.
The 2020 baseball season, called off due to COVID concerns, was expected to be a successful one for the senior-heavy Crusaders. But there's no looking back.
"No, haven't mentioned it," Wyrick said. "Once we started practice, it's in the past, we have to move on."
Helias last saw the field in dropping a Class 4 semifinal contest to Borgia in O'Fallon. The Crusaders and Knights will meet again today at the American Legion Sports Complex. Game time is 5 p.m.
It was not only the varsity that lost its season. The JV players, who are being counted on to be varsity players this year, missed out on the opportunity to develop.
"We can see it in some of them," Wyrick said. "Summer baseball is different, you have the guys together, but you're only playing twice a week and maybe practicing twice a week. And some of the guys are on other teams.
"It's not the same as getting in the work you need every day at practice. But everybody is in the same boat and it will be a matter of who can make the adjustment to the varsity level the fastest. They will be the most successful."
Helias returns three starters — Zach Wolken, Alex Loethen and Jacob Weaver — from the 2019 team that tied for third in the state tournament. All three are seniors.
Wolken will be back at first base, while Loethen has moved from second base to shortstop. Weaver will get the start in center field, moving from left.
The rest of the starting lineup will be learning on the job to see what it's like to play on the varsity.
"This isn't freshman ball, this isn't JV," Wyrick said. "This is varsity and teams will try to drill you if you let them."
Ethan Holzhauser, a senior, played a few games at catcher in 2019. He is competing with Cole Stumpe for the starting job.
"Both of them do things well, they're still in a battle," Wyrick said.
Nick Jeffries was slated to be the starter at second, but he will miss the season after having surgery. Carson Hayes, Aleck Barchesnki and Sam Wyrick are bidding to get the starting job.
"We'd like to find somebody to solidify that spot and not move," Chris Wyrick said.
Braden Scheulen will be the starter at third.
Will Herrbold and Jake Watson are competing for the starting spot in left field. Kaden Hampson and Billy Underwood are bidding for the spot in right. Quinton Baker is also in the mix at the corner outfield spots.
Weaver is the lone pitcher returning.
"He had some big games for us as a sophomore," Wyrick said.
Loethen and Scheulen will also see time on the mound when they aren't starting on the infield.
The trio are joined by eight others — Hampson, Cole Peters, Drew Miller, Sam Schell, Baker, Carson Gettinger, Nate Roark and Barchenski — who can pitch this season.
"We have to be able to trust them to go out and throw strikes, they can't walk the world," Wyrick said. "Make them swing the bat, I can live the results if we throw strikes."
The Crusaders would like to whittle the number of pitchers down to around five midway through the season.
"We may be piecing games together for the first month to decide what the roles are for the rest of the year," Wyrick said. "Get to where we know what we're going to get and let's go."
Jaden Kolb, a junior slated to be the No. 1 starter, is out with an elbow problem. He will be available to hit and is in the mix to be the starting designated hitter.
The Crusaders are still working through a starting batting order.
Wyrick likes what Herrbold brings as a potential leadoff batter.
"He's a pest, he's on the bases and always moving," Wyrick said.
Weaver may bat second, with Wolken hitting third in front of Kolb or Schell at DH. The rest of the lineup is in flux.
"Somebody will have to win those spots," Wyrick said. "The kids know they aren't going to be handed a starting spot here, you have to earn it."
Wyrick is confident the Crusaders will find enough potent bats.
"Offensively, we will be OK," he said. "We will have people step up and have good years."
Helias is scheduled to play Monday at Fatima before heading to Florida for five games. It's the start of a tough schedule for the Crusaders.
"It will be challenging, we're going to have to bring it every day to compete against a lot of these teams," Wyrick said.
It will be Helias' first baseball season in the Central Missouri Activities Conference.
"I think baseball might be the best overall sport in the conference," Wyrick said. "There will be multiple teams ranked in the state.
"Those six games are going to be some of the tougher ones on the schedule."
The Crusaders are looking to begin the season on a winning note.
"We need to get off to a good start to establish our confidence level," Wyrick said.