ELWOOD — Andy Garcia has been involved with many of this year's Elwood baseball seniors since their days in Little League.
So there won't be many introductions necessary for the Panthers' first-year varsity coach.
"It's very neat to see how they've progressed from 9 years old all the way up to seniors on the varsity," Garcia said. "I've watched 'em grow up. It's pretty phenomenal."
Mainstays London Leavell, Jared Bourff, Dakin Updegraff and Denver Mays return to lead the roster. Forrest Wright also joins the senior class in his first year at the varsity level.
Garcia is Elwood's third head coach in the past four years, and he's happy to have such a seasoned group of leaders on hand.
"They know the game very well," he said. "They're pretty baseball smart. They understand what's going on, and they understand what's being asked of them."
Two of the seniors will vie for the top spot in the pitching rotation, with Bourff holding a slight edge over Updegraff. The competition is "neck and neck," and Garcia said he's confident in both pitchers.
"They throw pretty good speed, and they have good control," he said. "I'm pretty happy with the way they're coming along."
The Panthers open the season on Saturday with a doubleheader at Heritage Christian, then they jump right into the fire with the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament.
Elwood is one of five schools to have won the tournament championship in its 13-year history, and the team played in the third-place game as recently as 2012. But it faces a difficult draw this season, with a first-round date against Central Indiana Conference rival Frankton — and possibly ace pitcher Logan Weins — on Tuesday at Pendleton Heights.
"I'm wondering if they're going to throw their No. 1 (Weins) against us or try to save him," Garcia said. "To me, it's beneficial. It'll get the kids the feel of a tournament and get them ready for (sectional) tournament time."