WELLSBURG - Ron Ujcich's Brooke Bruins, coming off a 14-17 season where they were eliminated in the third game of the sectionals, have one of the biggest holes to fill in the Ohio Valley, as three-time all-state catcher Nick Breen has taken his talents to Fairmont State to play for former Bruin George Yanchak.
Breen was a fixture on postseason teams from his freshman year and was the kind of player who could change the complexion of a game with one swing of the bat.
But he wasn't the only player to pick up a diploma. Also gone is three-year letterwinner - and fellow Fairmont freshman Steven Jeffries -along with right fielder Paul DiPasquale and pitcher Brent Pellen.
"We lost four seniors from last year and three starters so we are going to look to some young kids to step up and take over empty positions,'' said Ujcich, who enters his eighth season at the helm with a record of 67-125 for a program that hasn't had a winning season since 1993.
"We still have decisions to make for some starting positions as we have some good competition taking place for those spots. Our younger kids got valuable experience last year as we where not a senior-laden team and we are still not a senior-dominated team."
So who are those guys?
The key returners are junior Heath Hildreth, a shortstop and pitcher who hit .359 with seven doubles, as well as logging 36 innings on the mound. Longtime quarterback Alec Buchmelter, a senior first baseman/utility guy hit .333 last season.
Fellow senior Austin Schambach, a pitcher and outfielder, hit .329. Junior center fielder Russell Schwertfeger is back after hitting .283. Kalean Welch, a designated hitter/outfielder hit, .346 and drove in 19 runs.
Others hoping to make their way are pitcher/infielder Aaron Walker and Mario Lombardi, both sophomores, pitcher/outfielder Ethan Sole, a junior, senior pitcher/outfielder Ricky Molnar, junior catcher David Hardisty, senior utility man Eric Johnson, senior first baseman Colin Moser, junior infielder/pitcher Shawn Ashbrook, junior infielder Matt Mazzone, sophomore infielders Machael Kurcina, Hunter Grishkevich, Ryan Parrish, and Kody Wales, sophomore pitcher Luc Pannett, and a pair of freshmen in Chad Harper and Justin Loughrie.
"Pitching and defense are always the keys to winning games," Ujcich said. "I feel that if our pitchers throw strikes and we make the routine plays behind them on defense, we are capable of winning ballgames.
"We have a good group of seniors returning that we are going to turn toward for leadership on and off of the field. The seniors are stepping up into some important leadership roles and some underclassmen are doing the same as well. The coaches are optimistic for the upcoming season as the team continues to develop and work extremely hard."
Those assistant coaches are Todd Ujcich, John White, Nick Croce, Mark Schwertfeger, and Tim Pannett.