"I think the guys that are gone are going to be tough to replace," Rivard continued. "They all had high points during the season. Are we going to be as good as we were last year? I don't know. That's a lot of wins. Some guys will have to step up, but I think we have an opportunity to get back (to the Western Mass. finals)."
One of the Rivard's key returnees is senior hurler Adam Wright. It was the mild-mannered Wright who pitched the 'Canes to two playoff victories last season, giving up just two runs in complete-game wins over Mohawk and Southwick. His postseason heroics cemented an already impressive junior campaign in which his only loss of the season came in his final game, a 5-2 loss to Hudson in the state semifinals. He finished his breakout year with a record of 9-1 and a 1.56 ERA, earning All-Transcript MVP honors in the process.
"I expect Adam to have a good season, but will he have nine wins like he did last year? I don't know, Rivard said. "Going into the last game of the season, he was 9-0. That's a good job. There's no way
Rivard said his pitching staff should be one of the team's strong points this year. Though he lost Brandon Crouse, a player who battled injuries last year but was still capable of winning any game he started, Rivard has a number of good arms that are looking to fill the voids left by Crouse and Mike Ludwig.
Junior Ryan Joppich has the most experience and will likely take over the No. 2 starter role. Other players who will see time on the mound include sophomore Dalton Larabee and seniors Justin Gladu, Richie Soriano and Jeremy Lefebvre.
"I think the pitching will be good, but as I told the guys, baseball is a funny game and you have to be a little lucky, too," Rivard said. "I mean a long drive gets caught that could drive in two runs, and then you make a good pitch and it's a blooper that goes over somebody's head for two runs. So you still have to be a little lucky as a pitcher. You've got to make good pitches, but you still have to be a little lucky."
Some say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. One reason for Hoosac's success last year was a prepared defense that consistently took advantage of most opportunities. Jeff Burdick, Evan Sadlowski and Nolan Brassard have all graduated from the Hurricanes' outfield, but a majority of the Hoosac infield is still intact.
It's an infield that has become one of Berkshire County's finest. Senior Jack Demers leads the defense with his steady play at shortstop, while classmates Lefebvre and Kyle Lamont will also resume their roles at third base and catcher, respectively. Junior Andrew Rinaldi and Wright will continue to split time at second base. The only spot in the infield open for competition is first, where last season's emotional leader, Dan Kondel, was a fixture. Rivard said he expects seniors Austin Alibozek and Richie Soriano to share that duty.
"We've got to hope that our defense is a little bit better than last year," Rivard said. "We came a long way last year. Jeremy came a long way, and Adam and Andrew are steady. This is Jack's third year, and he's playing with more and more confidence. We're not flashy, but our philosophy is make the routine plays. If we make the routine plays and don't allow the big innings, we should be all right."
There will be a large group of players trying to win spots in the outfield. Early candidates include Gladu, Joppich, senior Chad Bleil and juniors Josh Clairmont and Aaron Brassard. Junior Steve Albreba will back up Lefebvre at third base, while classmate Matt Bird should also see some time off the bench. When he's not pitching, Rivard said Larabee will back up Lamont at catcher and serve as a "jack of all trades."
The main challenges on offense will be finding a leadoff hitter to replace Sadlowski, who batted .444 and scored 20 runs, and a cleanup hitter as good as Kondel (.431, 24 RBI).
Lefebvre is back, however, bringing his .342 batting average with him. He should be a middle-of-the-lineup guy, while Wright (.393) is more than capable at the top of the order. Soriano might be the key, however, as he has the strongest swing on the team. If he can avoid strikeouts, the powerful senior could be a beast in the heart of Hoosac's order.
With a little luck, plenty of great defense and a few players expanding their roles, the Hurricanes could find themselves in the same spot as last year playing for the Western Mass. title.
"I want them to understand we've been in the Western Mass. finals four out of the last nine years," Rivard said. "We've won it twice and we've lost it twice. We have to expect to get back there. No one is going to give it to you. People understand that you're a good program, but they aren't going to give you anything. We've been there and we know what it's like, so if we want to get back to the finals, we're going to have to work for it."