After starting last year 4-12, the Harper College baseball team was able to turn things around en route to a 20-22 finish.
Provided the fields ever return to playable form, Hawks coach Cliff Brown is hoping to see the trend continue.
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"Last year we did a good job of hitting with 2 strikes," Brown said of the midseason turnaround.
All of which led to a second straight trip to a Region IV tournament championship series. The Hawks are hoping for a return to that level of the postseason, but with a different outcome this time around.
"The guys who were here last year still have a bitter taste in their mouths from last year," said Brown.
The team's main foe so far has been the weather. The Hawks have already canceled the first two games on their schedule, but the bigger issue is practice time.
"It would have been nice to be able to get some outside time," Brown said. "You can't control the weather."
Harper's been regularly working out indoors, but that can be deceptive. As Brown put it, "In January and February, everybody looks like a world-beater in the gym."
The Hawks will have to replace four starters from last year's team but have a solid core returning. Two keys figure to be Kurt Becker (Palatine) and Theo Yfanis (Wheeling), who will patrol the left side of the infield.
Becker, who has a future at Lewis University after Harper, will spend the majority of his time at third base. In games where Neil Ori (Palatine), the team's regular second-baseman, does not play, Becker will shift to that spot.
Spectators may notice the defensive improvement from the 6-foot-3 Yfantis.
Center field features another solid glove in Chris Elliot, who Brown called "one of the better center fielders in the league. Anything in the air he's going to catch."
Another soph, Lee Breitzman (Fremd), will be a leader on the pitching staff.
The Hawks also feature a talented group of freshmen, including catcher Zach Jones. Like some of his more experienced teammates, Jones' best attribute might be his defense. Other freshmen to keep on eye on include David Rzewnicki, Angelo Curtis and Tyler Crussen.
Pitiching may be one one the areas hardest to predict for this year's team. But Brown likes what he sees heading into the season, calling the group among the "best staffs we have had."
Along with Breitzman, Matt Ittersagen figures to take a leading role. Given the number of doubleheaders the Hawks will play this season, Brown would like to have six starting pitchers.
This year's Hawks team may be better than any of the recent teams under Brown's guidance in terms of athleticism and depth.
"Everyone is going to contribute," Brown said. "I have a feeling about this group."