WHEELING - Coming off a fourth state baseball championship in seven seasons at the helm of his alma mater Wheeling Central coach Jimbo Wodusky considers himself to be one lucky guy.
''You know what?" Wodusky asked while discussing the outlook for the Maroon Knights' 2012 season. ''I am very fortunate to keep getting good ballplayers. They are willing to learn, do what they are taught and they just play the game hard."
Wodusky's coaching expertise and his players resiliency may be put to the test this spring. Replacements are needed for nine graduated seniors, seven of whom were every day players. Also not out this spring is senior letterman outfielder Erik Gompers, who decided to join the lacrosse team.
There also may be a numbers challenge as Wodusky anticipates keeping only 10-12 players on the varsity roster while assigning the others to the jayvee squad to get them more playing time.
''We'll swing some of those kids back and forth depending on the matchups and our pitcher that day," he explained.
Seniors gone from the 2011 West Virginia Class A title-winning team were Joel Jarrett, Derek Taylor, P.J. Ratcliffe, Joey Baker, McKenzie Peluchette, Jake Fullerton, Michael Zavolta, Travis Hammers and Tyler Harto.
Ratcliffe, the sold-hitting, slick-fielding centerfielder, earned first-team all-state honors after crushing the baseball for a .466 average with 22 RBI. Ratcliffe belted seven doubles, three triples and two home runs. On the basepaths he was successful in all 15 attempts to get into scoring position.
Ratcliffe also earned repeat first-team All-Valley recognition, while his outfielder-pitcher classmate Fullerton was selected on the second team and Central's bellcow pitcher during the postseason run, Joel Jarrett, earned a third-team selection.
Jarrett and returning pitcher-utility standout Mic Keys received special honorable mention for all-state and Baker earned honorable mention.
Although small in numbers this year, Wodusky is pleased with the versatility of his players and the depth he has on the pitching staff.
''Almost all of our players can play multiple positions," Wodusky explained. ''We have a lot of pitching but I'm just not sure at this point how solid we are going to be on the mound."
The Maroon Knights again will rely on a big senior class that includes Keys, Patrick Biega, Brandon Gast, Andrew Keane, Kyle Phair, Anthony Tighe and Ian Yanke.
Juniors are Justin Hammers, John McFarland and Nick Naumann, while the sophomores include C.J. Burch, Mario Peroni, Thomas Stanley, Michael Tighe and Derek Yocke.
Biega, a catcher during his first three years with the Maroon Knights, will come out from behind the plate and see regular starting duty at either first or third base.
''Patrick and Mic Keys, are utility guys that can and will play about everywhere," Wodusky stressed.
Because Biega also will be called to handle some pitching duties, Wodusky hopes to avoid what he thinks may be a risk using him behind the plate.
''In a pinch Biega could catch but I need his arm as one of our pitchers and at first and third base. I don't like to catch a man who is pitching," the veteran Central coach added.
Wodusky indicated early during practice for the 2012 season that if the season had opened on that date, Biega would likely start at third base, backed by McFarland and Yocke.
Keane got a lot of work behind the dish his junior year and is eager to take over that spot full-time. Yocke also has the inside shot at the backup job.
If Biega doesn't start at third, he would be at first base, where the other possibilities are Gast and Peroni.
Phair takes over at second base replacing Taylor. Hammers will back up at every infield position except first base. Taking over full-time at shortstop is Anthony Tighe, a slick fielder who impressed the coaching staff playing that position whenever Jarrett was on the mound.
''Tighe has good hands and gets rid of the ball quickly," Wodusky said.
Keys and Hammers can spell Tighe from time-to time.
The starting outfield appears to be a strong point with Yahnke in left, Keys in center and Naumann the right fielder.
Keys, inheriting the role Jarrett handled so well on the mound last year, will be the pitching staff's No. 1 guy. Biega, Gast, Phair, and Anthony Tighe are the other senior pitchers. Juniors likely to get a mound call are Hammers, McFarland and Naumann, with the promising sophomore Peroni also in the mix. Chase Truex, a strong-armed 6-foot-2 freshman could force his way into Wodusky's pitching plans at some point.\
Returning as assistant varsity coaches are Buck Droginske and Keith Wodusky, Jimbo's nephew. Jamie Conlin and Rick Szeligo have been assigned coach the jayvee squad.
WHEELING CENTRAL 2012 BASEBALL SCHEDULE
Mar. 26: Wheeling Park 5 p.m.
Mar. 27: at Linsly 5 p.m.
Mar. 29: Magnolia 5 p.m.
Mar. 31: at St. Clairsville (DH) 11 a.m.
Apr. 2: at Bishop Donahue 5 p.m.
Apr. 3: at Cameron 5 p.m.
Apr. 5: Weirton Madonna 5 p.m.
Apr. 7: Brooke (DH) Noon
Apr. 9: Bishop Donahue 5 p.m.
Apr. 12: at Oak Glen 5 p.m.
Apr. 13-14: at Parkersburg Cath. Tourn. TBA
Apr. 16: at John Marshall 5 p.m.
Apr. 17: at Buckeye Local 4:30 p.m.
Apr. 18: at Magnolia 5 p.m.
Apr. 19: Shadyside 7 p.m.
Apr. 20: at Weirton Madonna 5 p.m.
Apr. 21: OVAC Semifinal TBA
Apr. 24: at Morgantown 5 p.m.
Apr. 25: Linsly 5 p.m.
Apr. 26: at Wheeling Park 5 p.m.
Apr. 27: OVAC Final TBA
Apr. 30: Buckeye Local 5 p.m.
May 1: Steubenville Catholic 5 p.m.
May 2: Cameron 5 p.m.
May 3: Toronto 5 p.m.