SENECA — Coming off a season during which it batted .221 with just 39 extra-base hits, the Seneca varsity baseball team knows offensive improvement is a must in 2013.
The cupboard is not entirely bare for veteran coach Kirk Houchin. The only FIghting Irish 2012 All-Interstate Eight Conference selection, Brian Bergeson, returns after batting .299 with team highs in doubles (7) and home runs (3).
Brian Bergeson is likely to play left field when he is not pitching for the Irish.
"Obviously I'm looking to grow off of (the All-Conference season), and help my team as best I can," Bergeson said. "We had not so good a year last year, but we're hoping to bounce back strong."
Fellow senior Logan Pifer is likely to start next t Bergeson in center field. Pifer had a .320 batting average last season, which was highest among players with more than 12 at-bats. But only one other position — shortstop, where senior Brent Bergeson will play most of the time when not pitching — is solidified for the Irish.
Seniors Daniel Hamilton and Nick Kirkton and juniors Brandon Pasdertz and Luke Sohan are battling for Seneca's third-base job, with Hamilton also likely to fill in elsewhere. Seniors Trent Nugent and Ryan Schuetz and juniors Cole Klicker and James Miller are all options at second base. Seniors Chris Lee and Josh Rohder and junior Chance Gonnam — who was the top hitter for Seneca's sophomore team in 2012 — will play at first base.
In right field, juniors Austin Applebee and Conlan Callahan are competing, with Callahan also the back-up shortstop. And sophomore Matt Houchin and Hamilton are options at catcher.
"We're seeing signs of (better offense)," coach Houchin said. "These juniors, when they were sophomores, scored a lot of runs. They're kind of an offensive group."
Brent and Brian Bergeson, Pasdertz, Rohder, Applebee and Schuetz are expected to be the primary members of Seneca's pitching staff.
"We have a lot of returning guys, especially in our pitching staff. That should be our biggest strength, our pitching. I feel we can get guys out," Brent Bergeson said. "The big question mark is in our hitting, but I do think we'll hit a lot better. We should be able to get guys on and get guys in. Then we just have to hope our defense comes through behind it all."
Seneca went 2-14 in Interstate Eight Conference play last season to go with its 7-19 overall record.
"The guys are expecting big things. They've set goals for themselves of winning 20 games and competing for a conference championship. We haven't won one for three years now after winning two in a row," coach Houchin said.
"On our side (of the conference), Coal City is the bar that we set ourselves by. ... The teams that we typically do well against have improved a lot in the past few years. Teams like Westmont and Sandwich, and even Dwight."
Seneca is scheduled to open Thursday at Mendota, but the game looked iffy, Houchin said Monday, due to the weather. The conditions outside have given the Irish more reason than usual to revel in their annual spring trip to southern Illinois, which begins Monday with a game at Pleasant Plains.
"It's always something to look forward to," Brian Bergeson said. "We're looking forward to getting out and playing and hopefully enjoying some nice weather."