After posting a 2002 record of 21-7, and losing in the regional semifinals to Bay, the Buffalo Island Central Mustangs are returning a solid core from last year's team and are looking to return to further post season play this season.
"I believe we have a state tournament-caliber club," said BIC head coach Bill Taylor. "We are young, but we are very talented. I see this team as very capable of going far in the post season."
The Mustangs, who have no seniors on the roster, return six starters from last years' team and start three freshmen at the other three positions.
Brett Sexton returns in left field along with pitcher/outfielder Mark Hawkins, shortstop/pitcher Brandon Ballard, pitcher/catcher Josh Shepard, middle infielder Preston Despain and centerfielder Josh Nettles.
Starting freshmen include Brooks Taylor at third base, Chris Deeds at first and utility man Derek Rolland.
"We have real good pitching, good speed, but not a whole lot of power," said Taylor. "We don't really have any glaring weaknesses and that is why I believe we can be a state contender. Baseball is the strangest of sports you never know what's going to happen, but we're going to give it a shot."
The Mustangs won their season opener last Monday, squeaking past Westside, 5-4. Sexton and Shepard each notched two hits in the win. Hawkins picked up the win on the mound for BIC.
On Tuesday the Mustangs lost to Gosnell, 2-1, in eight innings.
Shepard pitched a complete game for BIC, scattering five hits in eight innings and striking out six.
Gosnell belted a two-out homerun in the eighth for the win.
The Mustangs split two games on Wednesday afternoon, defeating Cross County 4-3 early in the day and falling to Blytheville, 7-1 in the day's finale.
In the Cross County game, Hawkins put BIC on top with a two-run single. Sexton picked up the win with Hawkins getting the save.
"We didn't hit the ball well at all against Blytheville," Taylor said. We picked up a few hits, but we couldn't string anything together.
"It's early in the season and we're a bit sluggish right now," he added. "We're young, experienced and we have a very talented group and I think we have a good chance to make a run for the state tournament.
In the conference Taylor says Walnut Ridge is the team to beat.
"In the region, Riverside will be tough and Bay will be contenders," he said. Both of those teams will be better than they were last year. Marked Tree will also have a good squad.
"Overall, it's a well-balanced region."