By JIM ELLIOTT
CAMERON - After playing last season with two seniors, Cameron coach Eric James has eight on the roster as the 2012 season nears.
While a couple of them are foreign exchange students and another is a first-year player, there's some experience among the rest, which should serve the Dragons well against a beefed-up schedule.
Magnolia, John Marshall, St. Clairsville, and Bellaire have been added to the slate, which was already tough enough with the likes of small-school powers Weirton Madonna, Wheeling Central, and Linsly.
"We have a solid group of kids returning mixed with a good group of new players for this season,'' said James, who enters his 10th season as Cameron's baseball coach and has a 169-113 record. ''We play a very competitive schedule and the kids are ready. We've done some pretty good things out here in the last 10 years. We want to become a top-tier program in the small school rankings and in order for us to do that we'll have to continue to work hard and have the right mental attitude.''
The two seniors that were lost were Jimmy Higginson, who is on the roster at West Liberty University and Cole Cottrell, who is attending Ohio University Eastern.
Among the leading returnees is pitcher/infielder Ryan Hughes, who hit .344 with five homers and 29 RBI last season. On the mound, he had a 4.22 ERA and struck out 24. In the fall, he'll be headed to WVU where he will enter the honors program in Gas/Petroleum Engineering.
''He carries a 4.56 GPA and is an excellent role model for our younger players,'' James said.
Mitchel French, who has already signed to play at Wheeling Jesuit next season, can play just about anywhere. As a pitcher, he had a 4-1 record with a 3.40 ERA and at the plate, he hit .429 with 21 RBI on his way to being named first team all-state in W.Va. Class A.
The catcher is Taylor Neely, a four-year starter who hit .300 last season.
''He's a very solid catcher, will be counted on to produce at the plate this year,'' James said.
Pitcher-outfielder Jake Walker, a third-year starter, will look for a rebound season at the plate and will be asked to pitch a little more, according to James.
''His bat is coming along well and we look for him to be a solid contributor,'' the coach said.
Austin Warsinsky, also a pitcher-outfielder, hit .367 with two homers and 13 RBI last season, while earning a 3-1 record and 3.22 ERA on the mound.
"Austin has come into this season with a good attitude, very positive,'' James said. ''He will be a key contributor this season.''
The two exchange students are Atsushi Mukai, from Japan, and Andrew Montalbani, from Italy.
James said Mukai has shown some promise and will be counted on to provide depth at multiple positions. The last senior is Brandon Kale, a first-year player.
Leading the junior class is Mark Walker, who was named special mention all-state last season after hitting .424 with three homers and 23 RBI. On the mound, he was 2-2 with a 3.21 ERA.
"Mark will look to improve on his offensive output as a sophomore last season,'' James said. '' He really started hitting the ball well for us down the stretch. Great closer on the mound.''
Other juniors are Jordan Hart, Austin Pyle and Hunter Chambers, none of whom played last season. Hart will play outfield and catch. Pyle will pitch and play outfield. Chambers is inexperienced but has a great attitude and willingness to learn, James said.
There's just one sophomore in Austin Pegg, a first baseman-pitcher who saw limited action a season ago.
''Austin is an solid contact hitter,'' James said ''His approach to the game is fairly sound. He'll only get better as the year progresses."
The freshmen are Quinton Burge, Logan Routt, Dalton Wood, and Dustin Cook.
''As a team, our pitching has to be strong this season with the schedule that we play,'' James said. ''We'll need a better effort from some of our guys at the plate as well. If we can get a solid mix of timely hitting and our pitchers are able to hit their spots, we'll be a competitive squad this year. We'll need to play well early in the year to give some of our newer players some confidence."
James is assisted by Chad Clutter.
CAMERON 2012 BASEBALL SCHEDULE
March 23: Bishop Donahue5 p.m.
March 27: at Bishop Donahue5 p.m.
March 28: at Magnolia5 p.m.
March 29: Beallsville5 p.m.
March 30: at West Greene4:30 p.m.
March 31: Oak Glen (2)1 p.m.
April 2: at Madonna5 p.m.
April 4: Con. Valley (2)4:30 p.m.
April 7: at Bridgeport (2) Noon
April 9: Paden City5:30 p.m.
April 10: Hundred5:30 p.m.
April 11: at Clay-Battelle5 p.m.
April 12: West Greene5 p.m.
April 14: Valley (2)Noon
April 16: Madonna5 p.m.
April 17: at Beallsville5 p.m.
April 18: Clay-Battelle5 p.m.
April 21: OVACTBA
April 23: at Wheeling Central5 p.m.
April 24: at Bellaire5 p.m.
April 26: St. Clairsville5 p.m.
April 27: OVACTBA
May 1: Linsly5 p.m.
May 2: Wheeling Central5 p.m.
May 3: at Linsly5 p.m.