During the latter stages of the 2015 and 2016 baseball campaigns the Sandwich Indians faltered down the stretch, losing 20 of their last 26 contests combined during late-season letdowns.
That wasn't the case in 2017, where the Indians rebounded after a frustrating 0-9 start to finish at 8-16 overall and 6-9 in the always tough Interstate Eight Conference.
Now SHS veteran coach Jason Van Pelt (seventh year, 68-99) is hoping to find a way to combine a good start with a good finish after three years of frustration throughout either the front or back halves of competition.
"We had a very rough start last year where we played some very tough teams," Van Pelt said. "We ended up 8-16 where we lost eight games by only one run. So we were right there competing well overall. In reality, we were pretty young last season with only three seniors starting for us, so we return six guys that started for us last year. We lost our two best pitchers to graduation.
Those two losses in pitching came in the form of last year's senior standout hurlers, Jordan Isham and Justin Sartori, who combined for the majority of the Indian victories as well as Sartori's team-leading batting average of .451 and a club-best 24 runs batted in. That earned Sartori a nod on The Times 2017 All-Area First Team, while Isham checked in as a Times Second Team pick.
But now Sandwich will turn to strong-armed six-foot, three-inch senior pitcher Zach Hix to lead the way on the hill along with seniors Hayden Isham, Jake Pfaff, Christopher Schiera and Austin Salemi. Juniors Andrew Gipe, Sean Smith and Wyatt Murphy should also see time on the mound.
"Pitching-wise, we'll have Zach Hix, Pfaff and Isham," Van Pelt said. "We're also counting on getting strong innings also from Christopher Schiera, who did a nice job in games for us last year. I think we'll have a strong pitching staff this season, but we'll need to get some run support to help them."
Sandwich hit only .256 as a team in 2017, so the offense will need to pick it up for the Indians to experience their first winning campaign since 2006.
"We were right there at the end of the year, beating Plano in the regional before losing a one-run game to a very good Sycamore team in the regional semifinals," Van Pelt said. "Hopefully we can put things together from the start of the season until the end in order to come away with a winning year.