With a 12-15 final mark, the Streator High baseball team posted its best winning percentage in five years last season but weren't quite able to end the longest run of losing seasons in the program's storied history.
An experienced, nine-man senior group, a half dozen juniors stepping up and a trio of underclassmen all capable of making game-changing varsity contributions aim to finally halt that unprecedented six-year skid.
"The thing I like about this group so far is they all seem to like each other," said second-year Diamond Dogs coach Beau Albert. "These guys are all pretty good friends, it seems like. Even the freshman and sophomores I have up, they hang around with the seniors, they've all been hanging around with each other out at Southside (Diamonds, home of Streator Youth Baseball) for years growing up, so pulling up a newbie or two hasn't been a shock for the older guys.
"I think the seniors are pumped, and I think they're excited about the juniors that are coming up too. I think they believe they're going to be able to compete with some good teams, and things are going well."
Streator lost five of last year's top ballplayers — Times All-Area performers Peyton Phillis, Joey Byers, Mitch Vickers, John Benckendorf and Zack Grabowski — to Pomp and Circumstance, but still brings back plenty of 2018's contributors.
Jacob Bemont (2-3 pitching record, 5.25 ERA), Drew Schmitt (1-1, 6.46 ERA), Trevor Sember (.244, 4 RBIs; 0-1, 5.94 ERA) and sophomore southpaw Payton Benning (no varsity innings in 2018) look to be 2019's start-of-the-year pitching rotation, with additional mound time for Vern McKinley (0-1, 6.72 ERA), Lucas Sharisky, Mason Benning, Carter Spears, Christian Bedecker, Carter Pierce, Chase Compton and Mason Telford.
Clutch-hitting Times All-Area Honorable Mention pick Brett Dresbach (.305 batting average, 13 RBIs) returns as a first baseman/designated hitter, with Sember also at first base. Sharisky, James McGurk (.200, 2 RBIs), Pierce, Mason Benning, Telford and lone freshman Sean McGurk are all capable of handling middle-infield duties, with Bemont, Sember and Bedecker listed as the Diamond Dogs' third basemen.
Sean McGurk and Spears will be the primary catchers. Telford and McKinley are competing for the right field/center field spots, with Cade Dutko (.286, 0 RBIs), Logan Colter (.278, 2 RBIs) and Trevor Sterling looking for time in left field on what Albert believes should be a much-improved defense.
"I really like the tandem we've got up the middle," he said. "With the pitchers we've got, we're not going to blow anybody's doors off for seven innings and get 14 or 15 strikeouts, but I think we've got guys who can roll groundballs, and I think we're going to play better defense this year. That's what one of the strengths of our team is going to be.
"If we can hit, I think we'll be right there with the best teams in the (Interstate Eight) Conference this year ... and win totals, we're shooting for over .500, get back to being a winning ballclub, which we haven't had in a while."
If the Diamond Dogs can get back above .500, they'll be doing it against a regular-season schedule which opens (weather permitting) this Saturday at home against crosstown rival Woodland/Flanagan-Cornell and has added a number of tough opponents Streator has been seeing in regionals in recent years, including Washington, Metamora and Morton.
"If we want to be one of the best baseball teams in the area come regional time, we're probably going to be going (southwest for regionals), and we're going to have to be able to beat these teams when we see them," Albert said.
Player Pos. Yr.
Brett Dresbach 1B/DH Sr.
Jacob Bemont P/3B Sr.
Cade Dutko OF/2B Sr.
Lucas Sharisky 2B/P Sr.
Vern McKinley OF/P Sr.
James McGurk Util. Sr.
Chase Compton P Sr.
Logan Colter OF Sr.
Trevor Sember P/IF Sr.
Mason Benning SS/P Jr.
Carter Spears C/P Jr.
Christian Bedecker 3B/P Jr.
Drew Schmitt P Jr.
Carter Pierce 2B/P Jr.
Trevor Sterling OF Jr.
Payton Benning P So.
Mason Telford P/Util. So.
Sean McGurk C/IF Fr.
Head coach: Beau Albert (2nd season)