LOGO MULLER TOURNAMENT

ELWOOD — Preseason polls obviously don't carry a great deal of meaning.

But it always gives a coach a little lift to be recognized by peers.

"It really does," second-year Elwood coach Andy Garcia said. "It makes me feel pretty good."

The Panthers — who earned honorable mention in the Indiana Baseball Coaches Association's initial Class 2A rankings — are coming off a solid 19-11 campaign, but they had to say goodbye to seven seniors after it ended.

"We lost some great talent, and we'll have to replace those guys," Garcia said. "But we're optimistic, and we're going to work with what we have."

Elwood returns a pair of seniors in Stephen Helpling and Trevor Shannon, and a third — Jaylen Tunnell — joins the program this year as the starting catcher.

"He's real good behind the dish, and he's got a great bat," Garcia said.

Juniors Will Dailey, JD Sallee and Weston Elbert also will be asked to step forward as leaders.

Returning sophomores include Grayson Savage, Andrew Hawes and Landon Diehl, and freshmen Aaron Litherland and Drew Leisure are expected to contribute immediately.

Garcia is just hoping everyone can get in sync early on.

"I'd just like to have all the players and everything be on the same page," he said. "Some of the younger guys will need to step up and take on some leadership roles. I'd like some of the older guys to be patient. Things'll come along."

The Panthers got off to a slow start last year that Garcia attributes to the transition to a new coach. Even though this year's team is younger, he has the advantage of having worked with many of these players for years.

"A lot of these younger kids I've coached from Little League on up," Garcia said. "Hopefully, the transition goes a little smoother."

Elwood's slow start last year was reflected in a seventh-place finish in the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament.

The Panthers lost to Central Indiana Conference rival Frankton in the opening round then beat Anderson Prep in an elimination game. A subsequent loss to another CIC foe, Madison-Grant, put Elwood in the seventh-place game.

The Panthers won that contest 7-4 against Liberty Christian to escape the tourney with a .500 record.

In a perfect world, Garcia would like to see the tourney played a little bit later in the season. But there are advantages to the early date.

"The only thing we can try to do is play our best and see what we've got to work on," he said.

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THB sports editor George Bremer has covered the Indianapolis Colts since 2010. He occasionally sports a beard that can rival Andrew Luck's, but he lacks arm strength and durability.