After playing in 11 regular-season games last season that were decided by four or fewer runs, the Flagstaff Eagles are no stranger to adversity.
Led by a group of seniors that played key positions and was productive on offense, the team won seven of those 11 tightly contested games and went 12-6 on the way to earning its first playoff appearance since 2014.
Mike DoBosh feels confident that his new group of seniors can take last year's experiences and use them to become leaders that will take charge of the team and give it direction.
“That's big-time for us, and if we are going to be successful we need that to happen,” DoBosh said.
Many of last year's close victories came on late-game rallies. DoBosh said the comebacks toughened his team up mentally and taught them lessons they have not forgotten.
"The returners remember that, I think, and they will carry that over. I think they have it in the back of their minds they can come back late to win ballgames," DoBosh said.
But with the combination of solid pitchers and hitters back for another year, the Eagles might not need to grind through this season.
In his junior year, Drew Healy was a large part of the team's success in 2017. He finished with a team-high 32 RBIs and ended up second in hits at 30 behind Brennan Brogni, the player Healy is replacing at shortstop. No other member of the team reached the 30s in either category.
Healy played third base and pitched for most of his varsity career, throwing the fourth-most innings pitched last year for the Eagles. He won the competition for the vacancy left open by Brogni.
"It's not the body type you'd think, but he's super athletic. Drew loves the game, loves baseball, and that’s the kind of guy you want in the spot and that role," DoBosh said. "He can handle the pressure, and has played competitive ball in the offseason and signed with Yavapai, so we think he gives us the best chance to fill that spot."
While Healy has garnered his new role, there is still a contest going on to see who will take over as catcher, a spot left open by Jared Wetzel. Senior Landon Tinsman and junior Colton Bond are looking to try to support Wetzel, who hit .388 and had 15 RBIs on 26 total hits in his senior year.
“We think that we should be able to fill the spots we need to," DoBosh said. "Losing Brennan at shortstop was a big hole to fill -- and Wetzel behind the plate.”
While Healy looks to build off his offensive success from a year ago, seniors Shane Kuzmin and Jimmy Guinan will hope to give the team quality at-bats after combining for 37 of Flagstaff's 181 RBIs as a team. Pitching the most innings for the team in 2017 to go with a team-high 25 total strikeouts, Guinan, like Healy, is also a returning dual threat after putting up 28 hits his junior year to go with 22 RBIs.
Healy and Kuzmin were the lone freshmen on the team in 2015, a year that saw the Eagles break even at 9-9. They played during the Division II year before the AIA realigned and placed Flagstaff in the 4A Conference, its current league, going 6-12 in 2016.
DoBosh thinks his seasoned pitchers are ready to go deep into games this season.
Rylan DoBosh is another player set to take on a bigger role this season. The returning pitcher, who tossed 30 1/3 innings his sophomore year, has made his way to the other open middle-infield spot at second base, replacing Avery Wilson.
Rylan was one of three pitchers to tally 30 or more innings last year, and he had a 3.69 ERA to go with 11 strikeouts by the end of the season.
With successful pitching and productive members of the offense returning, the new-look defense will have to play solid in order to help the team -- which finished in a three-way tie with Coconino and Mingus Union in the Grand Canyon Region a year ago -- get over last year's humps.
"The returning kids will have to step up and compete and play at a high level," Mike DoBosh said.