Citadel baseball coach Fred Jordan returns almost every major piece from the team that advanced to the Southern Conference championship game last season.
But the two pieces that are missing are huge - SoCon pitcher of the year Austin Pritcher and all-SoCon catcher Joe Jackson.
"You are talking about the best offensive player in the league and the best pitcher in the league," Jordan said Friday as the Bulldogs began preseason practice. "We've got some hitters and pitchers back, but their numbers were outstanding."
Pritcher, 8-3 with a 2.99 earned-run average last year, was a 19th-round pick by the Detroit Tigers. Jackson, who hit .386 with 13 home runs and 67 runs batted in, went in the fifth round to the Rangers.
Senior Ryan Kilgallen, the team's MVP during fall ball, and sophomore Stephen Windham are tasked with replacing Jackson at catcher. On the mound, senior Logan Cribb (4-3, 3.60 ERA) and junior James Reeves (3-1, 4.01 ERA) will lead the rotation.
Elsewhere, Jordan's club is stocked with veterans from last year's 35-25 team, which went 18-12 in SoCon play before losing to Elon, 6-5, in the SoCon title game.
One of the top sluggers in the nation, junior Bo Thompson hit 14 home runs last year. He and senior Calvin Orth will share first base and designated hitter. Second baseman Mason Davis and shortstop Johnathan Stokes are third-year starters, and the outfield is four deep with Hughston Armstrong in center, Drew DeKerlegand in left and Tyler Griffin in right, with Jason Smith off the bench. A freshman to watch? Outfielder Austin Mapes could make an impact.
Jordan calls the schedule, highlighted by a Feb. 15 visit from College World Series team Louisville, "probably the most difficult we've played."
"We hope (the players) are highly motivated," he said. "The way last season ended was very disappointing, for the simple fact that at the end of the year, we were probably the best club in the league. It didn't work out, but we're excited to get started this year."
Meet the Bulldogs is set for 11 a.m. Feb. 9, with the season opener at 4 p.m. Feb. 14 against Delaware.