Baseball season opens in the North Fork Valley this Monday, March 12, with a game between 2A Paonia and 3A Hotchkiss.
Under veteran coach Jason Yantzer, Hotchkiss ended the 2011 season with a 21-4, 16-2 record, a league and regional championship and a fourth-place finish at state.
The Bulldogs will see several changes to this season's lineup after graduating six seniors in 2011.
Paonia claimed the district title in 2011 and ended the season at 15-8. Under new head coach Drew Potter, the Eagles return all but one of last year's players, and will have eight seniors in the varsity lineup.
"That's a lot of experience coming back," said Potter. "We should be very strong."
Potter brings several years of coaching experience to the team, including high school football and baseball positions in Iowa and Nebraska and four years as a youth coach.
Potter was an assistant football coach at Paonia last fall and prior to that was assistant football and girls basketball coach for Delta High School.
He sees a lot of potential in this year's team.
The Eagles are working to strengthen their pitching game after graduating pitcher Casey Gillenwater, who was named all-state honorable mention in 2011, and on their defense, said Potter, who was hired last spring as head coach and worked with several of his team members last summer. Expect to see some changes in positions at the varsity level as the season progresses, said Potter.
Paonia's schedule will include more games against bigger teams than in the past, starting with next week's Montrose tournament. Paonia scrimmaged 4A Delta last Saturday at Delta, and will play 4A Battle Mountain on March 20. "It's a tougher schedule in general, but it will make us stronger when playoffs come," said Potter.
Monday's game begins at 4 p.m., at the Hotchkiss K-8 field.