At only a 13-10 record entering sectional play last season, many would not have pegged South Putnam to repeat as sectional champions.
Three days and 25 runs later, the Eagles lifted the same trophy they had done the year before. The ride would not stop there, as they knocked off No. 6 Evansville Mater Dei before falling to a free swinging Providence squad that laced 37 runs over the course of the day.
Heading into the 2011 season, South Putnam will not look like the team that took the field last year. That's OK for Eagles' coach Ryan Gilman.
The second-year South Putnam head coach was pleased with the outcome of the team during his first year coaching the Eagles.
"It was a good season for us and hopefully is a stepping stone for this year. We lost several seniors last year through graduation that were key to that run," Gilman said.
In trying to claim a third straight sectional title, though, the Eagles will have to revamp a squad which lost five seniors and plug multiple holes all over the field.
Gone are most of the infield with the departures of Derek Dean, John Spencer and Putnam County Player of the Year Cameron Chestnut, along with outfielders Nathan Welty and Drew Cash.
With only three positions returning for the new year, the Eagles will look like an entirely new baseball team. Gilman will have to fill the spots quickly because none of the conference teams will be willing to wait around and see what South Putnam has to offer.
"From last year's team to this year, we have a lot of holes to fill because the five seniors were starters. Where people are playing at this season, we don't know quite yet," Gilman said.
South Putnam returns only five players from the varsity roster from last season, with one senior in pitcher Grant Zimmerman, juniors Rob Gibson, Cody Heller and Seth Hammond, along with sophomore Aaron Parker. Gilman will rely heavily on that group's experience to guide the transition.
"We need them to step up and be leaders for the people that are stepping in. That's the biggest thing. We're going to have to play a little bit differently but we still have fundamentals that we've built that will hopefully help us from that standpoint," Gilman said.
"We have Grant and Aaron coming back to the mound with experience. Rob Gibson is returning in the outfield, as well as Seth Hammond in the infield."
The group is joined by multiple JV squad players including juniors Nick Scott and Logan White, sophomores Justin Bumgardner, Logan Pell, J.D. Briones and Tanner Thompson, along with freshman Wyatt Nees.
"We're trying to build a bunch of competition because, this only being the first week of practice, we're trying to see who's going to compete and make the plays. We want to find who can help us out there," Gilman added.
"We still have a lot of JV players who are looking to move up and we've seen good things from them. We expect big things from them."
In chasing a third consecutive sectional title, the Eagles will need to keep their strong conference play going. Of the opening slate, four of the first five games are WCC games against Cloverdale and Cascade, while eight of the 10 conference games occur before the month of April is done.
"Every conference game is important regardless of who it is. One of our goals, as with any team in the conference, is to go out and compete with everyone in the conference teams. We have a lot of good teams on our schedule, teams that will help us compete and help us work on the things we need to work on," Gilman said.
"Right now we want to compete in every game. Do the things that we need to do in order to help us out and win. We have the fundamentals in place to help us do that.
"Our goals are like every other team's goals -- go in an compete for a conference title, a county title and win as many games as we can. We need to go out and work hard and have the attitude to handle any situation, no matter what it may be."