Maintaining that lofty perch will be a big challenge in 2014 for the Lions, who lost eight seniors from the team that beat archrival Westminster in the AA finals.
While incorporating several new players in its lineup, Lovett has continued its winning ways with an 8-3 record as of last Friday.
“I think it’s a matter of us feeling our way,” Lovett coach Lance Oubs said. “We had to replace a bunch of positions, a couple of pitchers, so it’s a matter of trying to find the current pieces to the puzzle before we get to region play and get some guys who haven’t played a lot the opportunity to get some bats and get some time on the mound.”
Lovett still has a large number of upperclassmen on their roster, though many of them saw little playing time before this season.
While encouraged by the progress his team has made so far, Oubs said there is still work to be done before the Lions open their Region 6AA schedule at Wesleyan Tuesday.
“We’re loaded with juniors and seniors,” Oubs said. “But, a lot of our guys are pretty inexperienced when it comes to varsity baseball, because of the guys they’ve been behind. I’ve seen a lot of good things; I’ve seen several areas where we certainly need to improve.
“We’ve shown glimpses of how we played last year, putting together things on the mound, at the plate and in the field, and I’ve seen games where we’ve been deficient in one or more areas and those games have not gone our way. We have [one week] to kind of get things ready for region and it’s still a work in progress right now.”
For Oubs, another challenge for Lovett is having the bull’s eye on its back as the defending AA state champions.
“We try to do the best we can to downplay that,” Oubs said. “Obviously, we try to make the guys understand that it’s not the same team. While we are the defending state champs, it’s not the same team and these guys constantly don’t need to put added pressure on themselves, because of the moniker ‘defending state champs.’
“But, by virtue of that being the case, we are going to be checked on a lot of teams’ schedules. We’re going to see a lot of teams’ No. 1 pitchers. Teams are going to get up to play us, simply because they would like to say they beat the defending AA state champs. In that regard, it’s different that we’re on the other side — whereas last year, we were under the radar for most of the year. Now, we’re out in front of it, because of the name ‘defending state champs.’ But, it’s a totally different team and that’s what [our players] need to understand.”
Senior catcher Nick Cancelliere was Lovett’s leading hitter as of last Friday with a .480 batting average, while junior right fielder Will Geraghty (.360) and sophomore shortstop Aaron Schunk (.318) are the other top batters.
Senior left hander Mitch Stallings (3-1, 0.78 earned run average) returns to lead the pitching staff, while Schunk (1-0, 0.88 ERA, 1 save) has also been a key figure on the mound.