As Ted Downing prepares to begin his third season leading the Bridgeport High School baseball team, his first concern lies with the health of his squad.
''We have a lot of injuries right now,'' said Downing, who has a career mark of 27-27.
''The team (which has eight returning starters) needs to step up and fill in for others who have been injured.
PICTURED ARE the key returnees for the Bridgeport baseball team. Front row, from left, are Dylan Bennett, Bailey McGrath, Pat Britton, Andy Hadzima and Jared Heslop. Back row, from left, are QJ Williams, Parker Dyson, Colt Charlton, Bradley Pritchett and Chance Watson.
''The one thing we do not have is a lot of depth. We can't afford any more injuries.''
Outfielder Robert Teeman, a junior, is already gone for the year. He batted .271 last year as the Bulldogs went 17-10 and reached the district semifinals.
Returning to the outfield are juniors Dylan Bennett, Q.J. Williams and Chance Watson.
Williams led the team in at-bast last season (106) and had seven doubles, with 18 RBI. He scored 26 runs.
''He's an outstanding defensive outfielder and hitter,'' Downing said. ''We're looking to help out in the pitching department, as well.''
Junior Jacob Ray and sophomore Carlos Kusic are also in the outfield mix. Both are new to the program.
Junior Bailey McGrath anchors the infield. He paced the Bulldogs last year with 49 hits, including 14 doubles. He knocked in a team-best 21 runs and scored 40 runs.
''Great defensive player when playing this position,'' Downing said of McGrath. ''We're looking for more great things out of him.''
Others vying for playing time in the infield include senior Colt Charlton, along with juniors Andrew Hadzima, Bradley Pritchett and Jared Heslop.
Charlton, a captain, will likely spend most of his time behind the plate.
''We need him to highly productive at the plate this year,'' Downing said.
Charlton could also be aiding the pitching department. But most of the time he'll be managing the staff.
McGrath and junior Parker Dyson are the top two hurler.
''He had a good year last year,'' Downing said. ''He throws hard. We have high expectations for Parker and look for him to improve.''
Seniors Bailey Seiber and Zach Herink, both newcomers, could also see infield time.
New to the team this year are freshmen Matt Herink, Jeremy McKivigan, Dylan Nowakowski, Emilio Saldana, Chase Fine, Blaike Leonard and Austin Steen.
''Their roles are yet to be determined, but we are hoping they can step up help the team out during the season,'' Downing said.
Despite the adversity the injuries have caused, Downing has been impressed by his players' resilience.
''The team is very competitive and will go as far as the pitching and defense will carry us,'' he said.
Downing is assisted by Mike Muklewicz, Zachary Melton, Don Cash, Mike McGrath and Ryan Kreiter.
Bridgeport's schedule is as follows. All times are 5 p.m. unless noted.
March 29 - at Conotton Valley (DH), 1 p.m.; April 1 - Bishop Donahue; April 2 - Buckeye Trail; April 4 - River; April 5 - Cameron (DH), Noon; April 7 - at River; April 8 - at Martins Ferry; April 9 - at Linsly; April 14 - Shadyside; April 15 - at Bellaire; April 16 - at Shadyside; April 18 - Union Local; April 19 - Paden City (DH), Noon; April 21 - at Barnesville, 4:30 p.m.; April 22 - at Beallsville; April 23 - Barnesville; April 25 - at Buckeye Trail; April 26 - OVAC Semifinals; April 29 - at Bishop Donahue; April 30 - Linsly; May 1 - at Union Local; May 3 - OVAC Finals; May 6 - Buckeye Local, 7 p.m.; May 7 - Martins Ferry, 7 p.m.