ROACHDALE -- It seems like an eternity ago that Alex Arthur was on third base, then was barreling down the line, heading toward home.
The gamble caught everyone off guard. Pitcher Kyler Badten. Catcher Austin Day. The dugouts. The fans. Everyone.
Fast forward nine months and that memory is one of the driving factors behind the North Putnam Cougars baseball team of 2011.
A sectional loss seemed to signal the end for a team that had been one of the leading lights in the county for several years, but head coach Norm Fish and his up and coming squad would beg to differ.
Fish's squad lost three seniors from 2010 but retain the bulk of a squad that looks for a much improved 2011.
"I knew, going into last year, that we were young and we were going to take our lumps. Towards the end of the season, I was impressed with the kids when they got a taste of winning. Toward the end, they expected to win ballgames when earlier I don't think they expected to win," Fish said.
"It was a tough season. They got 10 run ruled several times but what impressed me was that they excepted it but didn't get down and kept getting better all year and by the end of the year, with a lot of freshmen mainly playing against seniors, they won a couple of big games and began to get that taste of winning."
"Later, they expected to win and losing got a little tougher once they knew they could win. They began to think 'daggone, we could've won that game.' I was impressed with the way they stuck with it and by the end, we were playing decent baseball," Fish added.
The squad lost three important members to the wild ending during the sectionals, each with their own unique role in the team.
"We lost some decent seniors from last year. We'll have to fill in Brock Jones' bat. He was pretty productive for us on the offensive end. Shawn Diebold anchored our outfield and was our team leader, so we definitely need someone to come in and take over his responsibilities," Fish mentioned.
"Mychael Buchanan was a utility player for us last year. He was a guy we could put here, put there and we'll need a guy who can do that this year because we'll use a lot of pitchers this season and we need a guy to fill in a spot while that player is pitching so we don't have to move everyone around."
Fish will rely on a variety of players from last year to plug the gaps. A team chock full of freshmen last year, they'll need to rely on their trial-by-fire experience to move the team forward as Fish has only five total juniors and seniors.
"Kyler Badten was playing really good baseball towards the end of the season and we want to count on him a lot to step up and be a player this year. He's a sophomore who has a lot of experience, he plays a lot of baseball, and we're expecting him to be competing right up there with anybody in the conference, both offensively and defensively," Fish said.
"We think Tyler Watson, a senior, is going to anchor our hitting line-up and be a team leader. He's done a great job so far of helping the kids in practice, and so has fellow senior Brian Frazier," Fish said.
"We've also got two juniors returning from last year, Blake Knowling and Brandon Kimmel, who have been in the program since middle school and come to everything. They come to winter workouts, summer workouts and we're counting on them to step up and be leaders this year."
"A player coming off the JV that I expect to have a big impact early in the season is Michael Herman. He looks like he's going to have a good chance to make the step up and be a varsity player. Jacob Muse, another big, strong kid, should also come off the JV roster and we'll expect some stuff from him at the plate."
The under classes feature a large chunk of returning and potential starters, including sophomores Day, Herman, Brody Perrine, Jake Haste, Morgan Hensely and potential freshmen picks, amongst which are potentially Caleb Belcher, Beau Green, Coy Flynn, Jordan Nauert, Shane Beamon and Bennet Hazlegrove.
"A lot of the sophomore class, the five or six freshmen we started last year, they're no longer young players, even though they are, they're going to be our guys. I expect them to mature and be seasoned players, especially as the season progresses," Fish said.
"We've got a great freshmen class, about 10 or 12 kids that are really good baseball kids and a couple of them are going to be factors this year. I don't know which ones yet, but there's definitely going to be two or three of them that will be players for us," Fish added.
Having improved at the end of last year, Fish knew that teams would not be as willing to overlook the Cougars this year. Fish did note that the competition will still be fierce, especially locally.
"Our local teams, our cconference and county teams, are really strong. Just looking at their pitching, I know South Putnam's No. 1 and No. 2 are back, same with Cascade and I think Greencastle's are back as well. Most of the teams have got their top two pitchers back from last year and that's huge," Fish said.
"But we also have our top to pitchers back from last year, they were sophomores last year, and I think we can compete with anybody we play. I expect to win. I expect to give everyone in our conference and county a good, hard, competitive game and I think we'll win our fair share," Fish added.
"We can't take anyone lightly and I'm sure we'll be the underdog against everybody again. That's fine with me. I expect, and I know the team expects, that we can compete at the top of both the county and the conference.
"We've got a tough non-conference schedule. We play Crawfordsville, Fountain Central, Covington, Danville, Covenant Christian. Lebanon's our first game, which is the Friday before we play Greencastle. We've got a good non-conference schedule," Fish mentioned.
With solid competition in front of them, Fish said the Cougars had a high goal set for the season.
"I say this, a little bit reluctantly, but our goal was to win 16-17 ballgames. I think that's realistic and that's over half our games. I think that would be a great improvement and I definitely think we're capable of that," Fish said.
"If we win over half of our non-conference games, I think we'll have a successful season. I say that reluctantly because as a coach and as a competitive player, I think we can beat anybody and we want to go in with that mentality.
"Who knows? We could play some good ball and go on a roll and very easily reach our goal and be close to 20 wins. On the other hand, if we don't work hard and don't focus on trying to get better as young players, we could miss our 15-16 game goal and have another sub-par season with the wins and losses," Fish added.
"It's up to the kids and the coaching staff. If we do the hard work, we can be right up there with anybody."