WEIRTON - Despite an increasingly hard section that figures to get tougher next season with the addition of Magnolia, Madonna coach Jeff Baire strongly feels his team is well-equipped to compete with the best.
And of course he should.
Madonna has been to the state tournament in the two of the past three years, including winning it all in 2009.
Unfortunately for Baire and his club, state champion Wheeling Central is also in the sectional and any road to the title goes through it.
"Wheeling Central is the barometer of Class A baseball, but I like to think we are right up there with them," Baire said. "What I try to do is make sure they aren't the biggest game on our schedule. I want to play the bigger schools to make sure we are ready when it comes to tournament time."
John Marshall, Brooke, and Morgantown are a part of difficult schedule that also includes a home-and-home with the Maroon Knights.
Baire thinks he has a team that is more than capable of earning victories and that starts with pitching.
Niagra recruit Logan Linder, Connor Mogan, Tory Fuscardo, Luca Fuscardo, and Will Bowser make a strong unit that Baire glows about.
"That is the one area I believe is going to be our strength," he said. "I have four starters that I have no problem throwing against anyone on any given day. And the more I see of the other, I believe I will be able to have the confidence in him as well. Having that is going to be a huge asset for us in the tournament."
The Blue Dons return seven starters in the field.
Nick Battista will shift from second base to shortstop to replace Chris Perna. Caleb Baire should also get some action.
Taking Battista's spot at second will be either sophomore Michael Rogers, or freshmen Vinny Merico or Jake Travigileno.
Senior Anthony Fulmer will play at first base along with Luca Fuscardo and Adam Robertson.
Sophomore Nick Ossman will patrol third base.
Chris Duerr had a .456 batting average and led the team with six homers and will start his senior season behind the plate with Ross Comis, Ossman, and Don Silverstri also seeing some time.
In the outfield will be an interchangeable combination. Left field will see Tory Fuscardo, Comis, or Marchello Biondello playing. Linder, Anthony Antinone or Luca Fuscardo will occupy center with Daniel Pietranton, Tory Fuscardo, Nick Mazur or Bowser in right.
"We are very young but very talented," Baire said. "We have eight starters coming back with .326 being the lowest batting average.
"Logan Linder said it best when he said 'last season wasn't as much fun.' After missing the state tournament, it is big motivation for them to get back.
"Looking at the talent we are bring back, we are going to be able to put the ball in play. We are going to play defense and we have the pitchers that are going to throw strikes. Those three things are going to be the key to our success."
MADONNA 2012 BASEBALL SCHEDULE
Mar. 26: at Weir4:30 p.m.
Mar. 27: at John Marshall5 p.m.
Mar. 28: at Oak Glen5 p.m.
Mar. 30: Oak Glen5 p.m.
Mar. 31: Steub. Central (2)1 p.m.
Apr. 2: Cameron5 p.m.
Apr. 3: at Linsly5 p.m.
Apr. 5: at Wheeling Central5 p.m.
Apr. 11: at Toronto5 p.m.
Apr. 12: at Char. Catholic5 p.m.
Apr. 13: at Park. Catholic4 p.m.
Apr. 14: at Notre Dame11 a.m.
Apr. 16: at St. Joe2 p.m.
Apr. 20: Wheeling Central5 p.m.
Apr. 23: Shadyside5 p.m.
Apr. 24: Beaver Local5 p.m.
Apr. 25: at Brooke6:30 p.m.
Apr. 28: at Lakewood (2)1 p.m.
Apr. 30: Brooke6:30 p.m.
May 1: at Morgantown (2)5 p.m.
May 2: at Indian Creek5 p.m.
May 4: Weir7:30 p.m.