Lowcountry Heat coach Chris Wells admits his expectations heading into last season "were a question mark." That installment of the Heat combined a group of young players from a one-win team the previous season with an influx of new talent, and Wells wasn't sure how they would mesh.
The result was a 23-win season -- the most in the team's history -- and the club's first trip to the American Legion baseball state tournament.
As the Heat prepares to begin another season with a home game against Goose Creek at 7 tonight, Wells' expectations are more like an exclamation point.
"We anticipate night in and night out we're going to be even or favored," Wells said. "We're not going to have too many games where we're underdogs.
It's easy to see where Wells derives his confidence. The roster includes most of the starting lineup from his Hilton Head High team, which advanced to the Class 3-A Lower State tournament earlier this month, along with a handful of players from Hilton Head Prep and Bluffton High School and two players -- De'Ante Scott and Devin McGuinness -- who are a year removed from high school.
Best of all, the roster boasts a wealth of pitching depth, a luxury that comes in handy when playing nine-inning games over a long summer, when family vacations and other commitments have a way of shortening the lineup card any given week.
"We've got seven strong, experienced arms," Wells said. "It's really an area all-star pitching staff. All seven guys can go out there and be a front-line guy. We're going to lean on those arms, and we're excited to have them."
Among them are last year's ace, Bluffton left-hander Ryan Ward, and right-handers McGuinness and Nic Levy, who were also on last year's roster. And Post 185 has added Hilton Head High's top two starters in left-hander Sean Bartlett and right-hander Cameron Stoltz, along with Hilton Head Prep ace Patrick Andrews, a right-hander who will play at Clemson next season.
Andrews will start tonight's opener, but Wells said he plans to break each game up into two or three increments in an effort to keep everyone fresh over the long season.
"I don't really want to extend too many of them too long," Wells said. "We've got seven guys who all want the ball, so it's really the reverse of what we've had in the past where we kind of had to run it close to the limit."
The only glaring hole in the roster is the lack of a natural first baseman, but with plenty of depth on the infield, Wells isn't worried about finding someone to play there. He said McGuinness, Andrews and Stoltz will share time on the mound, at third base and at first, and shortstop Kevin Hickey is also capable of playing first.
Wells learned last year how quickly a historic season can go in the wrong direction, though, as injuries and absences led his team to forfeit its first game in the state tournament and lose its second. So while he's careful about developing high expectations regarding wins and losses, he does have one prediction.
"I know one thing -- we're going to have a lot of fun this summer," Wells said. "It's just that kind of group, and they're loose and excited and ready to play."