Collegiate baseball opened with six straight wins last season, but the dominance didn't last.
Plagued by an inconsistent offense, the Spartans were 8-8 in their final 16 games and didn't reach the Class 3A tournament despite an off-the-charts season at the plate from junior catcher Tyler Coughenour.
Now Coughenour is a senior shortstop, and he'll anchor a lineup that coach Trent Nesmith expects to feature fewer easy outs.
"Our lineup, 1 through 7, 1 through 8, I'm really confident with our hitters this year," Nesmith said. "Last year, you got past Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 you'd have three not very good at-bats. But I think we'll have better at-bats toward the end of our lineup this year."
After winning games early in the season with scores such as 12-9, 11-5 and 9-7, Collegiate was unable to continue making every game a slugfest. After the undefeated start, the Spartans lost six games in which they scored four or fewer runs.
Collegiate needed the offense to outperform its abilities because the pitching staff was inexperienced. Nesmith expects pitchers such as Eben Bitonte, Cooper Rowe and Jacob Smith, all juniors, to take a step forward this season.
"We're deeper," Nesmith said. "We're a lot deeper."
A step forward might not be possible for Coughenour because improving the numbers he posted last season would be a difficult task. He hit .524 with 10 home runs, 46 RBIs, seven doubles and two triples. He also walked 12 times while striking out seven and had a .644 on-base percentage and 1.175 slugging percentage.
That was all while taking on the responsibilities of a catcher. Now Coughenour moves back to his natural position, shortstop.
"Hopefully I can put up the same season," Coughenour said. "But it doesn't matter about individual statistics, all that matters is team wins."
Several other important facets of the offense return — Bitonte, Rowe, Bryce Cornejo and Gus Myer all batted between .339 and .415. The only significant contributor lost to graduation was Michael McGuire, who batted .387 with 10 extra-base hits.
"We're going to have a pretty solid lineup all the way through," Coughenour said. "We have a lot of people who can hit. It's going to help a lot to have all the athletes we have this year."