The West County baseball team highlighted the local sports scene last spring with a historic run that reached the Class 3 state final four.
The third-place finish was the best in program history in two appearances at the highest level of the playoffs. The Bulldogs return several key components this season, but must replace two veteran leaders.
All-state talent Jared Jones moved on to Mineral Area College after belting a remarkable three grand slams his senior year, while infielder and ace pitcher Jacob Meinershagen joined the Cardinals' basketball program.
West County still has a bulk its lineup back. Junior hurlers Zach Francis and Hayden Roney provide a robust resume after combining for four wins in last year’s postseason campaign. Ty Simily steadily improved his batting during the Bulldogs' surge, and will again supply extra-base power.
Valle Catholic looks to remain atop the MAAA Small-School division despite graduating all-state catcher Cole Wood and left-handed bat Kaden Bauman. The Warriors have won 84 consecutive regular-season conference games over a dazzling 11-year stretch.
Seniors Jacob Bieser and Chris Loida return to the Valle infield, while juniors Carter Roth and Loida will share responsibility on the mound. Tyler Blum will also split time between the infield and pitching.
Arcadia Valley provides a strong case to be among the Small-School favorites this year following an impressive fall campaign. Versatile senior Isaiah Gibbs leads the charge for a club that went 14-10 overall last spring.
Other senior co-captains for the Tigers include catcher Tatum Jones and infielder Trent Russell, who will also share pitching duties as pitchers as well. All-conference selection Luke Savage offers the ability to handle pitching, catching or infield work for the Tigers.
AV graduated all-state standout Jake Pryor, who now plays at Mineral Area and recorded his first collegiate home run last Saturday against St. Charles.
Elsewhere in the MAAA Small-School conference, Bismarck has a major hole to fill after top pitcher Hunter Drake underwent knee surgery on Tuesday.
Drake extended the Indians' season in district action last year with a two-out, two run single against Chaffee to secure a 5-4 win in the seventh inning.
Logan Dunn remains a fixture near the top of the Bismarck order, and threw a gem in defeat against eventual state champion Bell City as a freshman.
Valley notched a narrow 6-4 district championship win last May in a back-and-forth affair against Leopold, earning its first such crown since 2006.
Keeton Loughary and Blake Boyer power the Vikings at the plate, while rival Kingston leans on multi-threat Boots Jessen.