Canfield's baseball season ended much more abruptly than anyone in Cardinal Nation expected last May.
The Cardinals fell short of capturing a third consecutive district championship when they were edged by All American Conference brother Niles 1-0 in the state tournament district semifinals. A warning to Niles and the rest of the rivals in the AAC, Canfield will be using last season's ending loss as motivation for 2014.
''I know these guys are hungry,'' said Canfield head coach Matt Koenig. ''They have a sour taste in their mouths. We can't wait for the season to start.''
In 2011, the Cardinals lost in the same semifinal round they lost last spring. Most of the nucleus of that team came back in 2012 with a vengeance. Coach Koenig sees a similar trait in this year's returning group.
''We finished the second half of last season 11-3,'' said Koenig, ''and now we realize the importance of tournament games.''
Eleven of the returnees on Canfield's roster are seniors making for a very veteran roster. There are also a half dozen underclassmen that will all be counted on to contribute when Coach Koenig calls them.
''(The 11 seniors) are the biggest group I've had,'' said Koenig. ''We also have many returning starters.''
The glue of this Canfield clan is the infield where seniors should start at every position. Carter Rhoads should be in control as catcher, Alec Hammond should be at first base, Dan Brown should secure second base, Edmond Pilolli should be placed at shortstop and Jimmy Leone should round out the infield at third base. Alec Buchenic and Jake Cole are two more 12th-graders who can be found on the corner infield. Colton Crissman, Nick Luchansky and Alec Pool are the remaining seniors who most likely will be found patrolling the outfield.
The outfield also is the place where the Cardinals will have three of their finest returning non-seniors. Juniors David Shaffer and Jake Dawson and sophomore Luke Kelty will find time in Koenig's lineup as will junior catcher Kyle Kovach, junior infielder Nick Bastoli and junior third baseman Joey Machuga.
Perhaps the largest challenge facing Koenig early this season will be putting together a potent pitching staff. When Tony Velasquez graduated last summer he took most of Canfield's pitching innings along with him. Koenig doesn't think the bunch he is left with is incapable, but he wishes they had a few more pitches already under their belts.
''(Our pitching) is not too bad,'' he said. ''We may not have a number one (starter), but we have three or four guys who are very good.''
Heading up the rotation should be the 6'3'', hard throwing Leone who went 4-2 a year ago. Crissman and Hammond also will be seen on the bump a lot this year. Hammond is a left-hander who was great out of the bullpen last season and should be potent from the portside as a starter. Junior Joe Billec will be needed to make some starts as well.
It won't take long for the Cardinals to see how good this quartet of arms can be because they play five games the first week of the season. Matchups with Warren Harding and Niles to kick off the campaign will show Koenig how ready his Redbirds are to contend in the All American Conference. Austintown Fitch and Howland are probably Canfield's two toughest competitors for a conference crown in 2014.
''We expect to be right there with Fitch and the other teams,'' said Koenig. ''We're bringing back a lot of good kids (just like Fitch). We should be right there at the end.''