A handful of one-run losses, most of them in Principals' Athletic Conference games, kept the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy baseball team from a very successful season a year ago.
The Royals finished 14-14 overall, as well as 6-6 and in fourth place in the PAC. However, the 2016 team was the first CVCA team to advance to a district championship game since 2008, losing 3-1 to Chagrin Falls in the Division II Euclid District title game.
"We're going to try to be a little more aggressive on the base paths, little things like that that could produce runs," said second-year head coach Jason Herblet.
Losing Noah Brook, Christopher Punka, Jordan Noska and Myles Burdick --all major contributors last year --to graduation will no doubt hurt. However, seven returning lettermen will help.
"Our defense is really strong again," Herblet said. "Last year we didn't hit too great, so we're hoping to improve in that area, but we return three pretty solid pitchers who are going to be good."
Leading the way on the mound will be senior Steven Taylor, a returning letterman.
"Steven's fastball isn't overpowering but it's decent," said Herblet. "His strength is his pitch placement. He puts the ball where he needs to."
Taylor also is one of CVCA's best hitters and fielders, as he will play primarily at shortstop when he is not pitching. He batted .386 a year ago and was all-district and All-PAC.
"We're counting on Steven to do a lot for us. He's a great leader. How he goes is how our team goes," said the coach.
Much is also expected of junior Drew Wilson, another returning letterman, on the mound as well.
"Drew has a pretty good fastball, his changeup is really good and he's got a decent breaking ball. He's more of a strikeout guy," said Herblet. "Last year we brought him into some tight situations to close games in addition to his starting duties. This year he'll focus mainly on starting. He's just got that bulldog mentality where he's going to come in and take care of business. Nothing really fazes him."
When not on the mound, Wilson will be a middle infielder and is the best hitter on the team.
"Drew is a good situational hitter and has a lot of pop in his bat, too. He's also very fast on the base paths," Herblet said.
Returning letterman Matt Henning, a junior, is the No. 3 pitcher. His best pitch is his nasty curveball but, due to his diligent work last summer, his fastball has picked up a lot of velocity. When not on the mound, he will play in the outfield.
Other pitchers who will see considerable action are juniors Josh Thacker, a returning letterman, and Lance Rybka and sophomore Taylor Sobiech.
When not pitching, Sobiech, who has a very strong arm, will be in right field.
When not on the mound, Thacker will be in center field.
"Josh does a great job tracking down balls and he can steal bases, too," said Herblet. "He usually has the green light."
Rybka will also see action in the outfield when not pitching.
Left field is up for grabs, but it seems to be senior returning letterman Chris Fair's job to lose.
Senior Matt Miller, another returning letterman and the Royals' second-leading hitter last season, will be the first baseman.
Junior Dylan Nichols will play a lot at second base, and third base is up for grabs between several players, including junior Ryker Papa and sophomore Josh Junko.
Senior returning letterman James Hancock, one of the team leaders, will play periodically in the infield.
Behind the plate is up for grabs, but junior Tommy Piazza seems to be at the head of the line.
Other team members will be senior outfielder/pitcher Luke Leonard and sophomore catcher/infielder Tristan Roberts.
Herblet, whose assistant coaches will be Ben Miller, Kyle Silk, Josh Kopcsik and Doug Fairchild, believes winning the PAC championship is an attainable goal.
"Manchester won it last year and they return a lot of their core guys, so it will be a challenge," he said. "We could be right there at the end, though."
CVCA will open its season March 28 at Cincinnati Country Day. The Royals will play at Deerfield in Louisville, Ken. March 30 and will play at Christian Academy of Louisville March 31.