By BRETT MARSHALL
If the memory of the final baseball game of the Garden City Buffaloes 2012 season is still fresh, then perhaps veteran coach Bill Wilson and his cast of returning players will have much to look forward to as the 2013 campaign gets under way on Friday, when the Buffs host Wichita Word of Life in a 1 p.m. doubleheader at Clint Lightner Stadium.
Senior pitcher Edgar Montoya is among six returning seniors, along with stalwart catcher Thomas Solorio, who are eying improving a 10-11 record from a year ago.
The Buffs were two runs away from playing for the Class 6A sub-state championship, but Montoya's 1-hit gem wasn't enough as an error led to Wichita Heights scoring the lone run in the game.
"We made strides in the program last season and were much more competitive," Wilson said. "I think we've got the making of a good ballclub, and our goal this year is to win 14, 15 games and have a chance to host a first-round game in the playoffs. That's the important goal for us to look at down the road."
When Montoya is not on the mound, which he likely will be for one of the two games on Friday, he will play shortstop. He will be joined on the left side of the infield by senior Andy Saldivar. Wilson expects junior Ian Jones to play first base.
Competition is still under way to determine the team's second baseman, a spot Wilson said is still uncertain approaching the season opener.
"We'd like to have that resolved soon, so we'll see how the next couple of practices go and then make some decisions," Wilson said.
The leading candidates thus far have been junior Mitchell Hernandez and senior Johnathan Guerrero. Senior Isaiah Rodriguez returns and will anchor the outfield at center. Other probable outfielders include junior Ivan Gutierrez and sophomore Marcus Zapata.
In Solorio, the Buffs will have one of the top catchers in western Kansas after a highly successful sophomore season. Solorio had then moved to the Kansas City area following the spring season where he played summer ball and then also played some baseball in the fall. He moved back to Garden City in January and nobody is happier about that than Wilson and his pitching coach, Lyle Befort.
"He's pretty solid with his mechanics and he's really worked hard on making a quicker release," Wilson said. "He works well with the pitchers and I think it will have a great calming affect for our staff."
The Buffs had their annual alumni game on Saturday, and Wilson said he was encouraged by what he saw.
"Offensively, I thought we swung the bats better than I would have expected this early," Wilson said."Edgar pitched about five innings and struck out eight, so I think he's ready to go."
Bottom line, though, Wilson said how hungry this team will be for success will determine how far they go in the short spring season when they play a 20-game schedule.
"We've got kids if they're hungry, we have a chance to be pretty competitive," Wilson said.
2013 Garden City Baseball Schedule
March 22--WICHITA WORD OF LIFE (1 p.m.); March 26--WICHITA HEIGHTS (4 p.m.); April 2--TMP-MARIAN (4 p.m.); April 5--at Wichita North (4 p.m.); April 9--DODGE CITY (6:30 p.m.); April 16--HAYS HIGH (4 p.m.); April 19--at Dodge City (4 p.m.); April 27--at Liberal (Noon); April 29--at Wichita North (4 p.m.); May 3-4--at Emporia (TBA); May 7--GREAT BEND (4 p.m.); May 10--vs. Wichita Southeast, at Dodge City (4 p.m.).