For the first time in quite awhile, it appears Dove Creek baseball is loaded.
Six starters return from last year's 1A state tournament team and a crop of freshmen provide added depth the Bulldogs haven't had in the recent past.
Depth is something veteran ball coach Ken Soper is really pleased about.
"We got basically our top hitters returning. We got one of our top two pitchers returning. We got some depth this year," said Soper, who will coach the Bulldogs for a 51st season. "The depth is young, we got nine freshmen out."
One freshman is No. 2 pitcher Jordan Ernst. He will see time on the mound with No. 1 senior thrower Dalton Randolph.
With the Colorado winter weather, practicing outside had been limited so far. The Bulldogs scrimmaged Piedra Vista High in Farmington, N.M., last Saturday. Dove Creek returns a lot of offensive firepower, but pitching is the biggest question mark. There was good and bad on the mound at the scrimmage.
"He's definitely not where he was last year, yet. Hopefully, with the warm weather and more experience, he'll get back. But it's early," said Soper about Randolph.
Four pitchers saw time in Farmington with the bulk being freshmen.
Senior slugger Klancey Krafka is back at first base. A broken leg sidelined the stocky-framed athlete during football season. But the 2012 All-State selection is now healthy and ready to help the Bulldogs win a San Juan Basin League championship.
"Our No. 1 goal now, is to win the league," Soper said. "It's going to be tough, but it's our goal. There will be tough competition. Dolores is always good and Nucla is going to be tough. Nucla is 2A now. The league is going to be tough! "
Dove Creek was in the thick of the league title race last season. Two close late season losses to rival Dolores gave the Bears the SJBL championship.
Krafka was named the 2012 SJBL, Most Valuable Player, as well as being selected to the league's first team.
Krafka and the Bulldogs went onto blast Cotopaxi 23-4 in the District I championship, which sent Dove Creek to the 1A state tournament.
Along with Krafka and Randolph, juniors Tyson Smith and Nick Jones are back at third base and outfield. Senior Tyler Ebberts returns in the outfield and sophomore catcher Alex Ogas is back behind the plate.
Expectations and the level of excitement is high in the Bulldogs' dugout.
"The kids are really enthused this year, so that helps," Soper said. "We're all anxious for our first game to see how we do at the first of the year. Hopefully, we come away with a victory to get the kids' confidence and moral up."
First pitch is this afternoon in Farmington against 2A Navajo Prep. Dove Creek has never faced the Eagles on the diamond.
"I don't know anything about them in baseball. They usually have some good athletes," Soper said. "We hope to improve quite a bit in the nonleague games. We got two tournaments coming up."
The Bulldogs will be at the three-day Montezuma-Cortez tourney next week. A three-day tourney at Piedra Vista is March 21-23, before Dove Creek goes on spring break.
League plays begins April 9, with a home doubleheader against Ignacio.
Boys basketball coach Curtis Garver and Trent Daves are assisting Soper.