After reaching last year's Class AA state baseball championship with a veteran-loaded lineup, Bruce Herstine knew his Beaver Area team would have to put in a lot of work in order to compete this season.
He just didn't know how long it would take before actually witnessing positive results.
"The kids wanted to win from day one, but they just didn't know how," Herstine said. "The younger kids weren't hitting at all. Once they started getting a few hits and knew they could hit at this level, everything started to roll."
The Bobcats (10-5) opened their schedule losing five of six games, which included four losses against Section 5-AA opponents, before bouncing back with an impressive nine-game winning streak.
Beaver Area, the defending WPIAL Class AA champions, finished 10-4, third in the Section 5 standings behind Neshannock (13-1) and Riverside (10-4). The Bobcats were awarded a No. 10 seed and meet No. 7 seed Washington (14-4) Friday at the Burkett Complex in Robinson Township.
"Steadily, we've gotten better," Herstine said. "We went through a rough path there for a while early in the season, but we steadily progressed and have gotten better."
Last season, Beaver won the Section 5 crown with a 12-2 record and cruised to the WPIAL championship game where it defeated Quaker Valley to capture the district's Class AA title. The Bobcats continued to advance through the PIAA playoffs and completed its season with a 20-4 overall record after losing a 5-4 decision in the bottom of the seventh inning against Loyalsock Township in the state final.
"We lost eight starters from last year, so we had no expectations this year," Herstine said. "We knew last year we had the experience so we wanted to make a run. We just came up short."
Senior shortstop Alex Rowse and senior infielder/outfielder Jordan Yates returned as the team's only experienced starters.
Senior left fielder Evan McStay, junior catcher Patrick Hanigan, junior third baseman Luke Scheidemantel, sophomore first baseman Lucas Carroll, sophomore outfielder Michael Valent and freshman outfielder Zack Logan came into this season with little or no experience but ended up earning starting jobs.
"Early in the year, we were losing games and [those losses] were ugly," Herstine said.
"We were shuffling kids around the first few games. Finally, we sat down and decided to put kids in a spot and see what they could do after a couple games.
"Gradually, we saw a nice turnaround."
After its fifth loss of the season, a 12-4 defeat April 16 against Riverside, Beaver went on to win its next nine consecutive games. They even scored a total of 57 runs in the five games following the loss to Riverside.
"In general, we just started eliminating mistakes," Herstine said. "We were averaging a lot of errors earlier in the season.
"We just matured at some point. We're playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so our seniors were carrying the workload until those younger guys got used to playing [at the varsity level]."
Pitching-wise, the team has gone with a starter by committee and has relied on seniors Jake Hannan and Dillon Hinzy as well as Carroll and Yates.
"Our pitching has been steady," Herstine said. "Our hitting has immensely improved. It took some time, but once the upperclassman started to hit the younger guys followed suit.
"Hitting became contagious."
Beaver also handed top-ranked and No. 1 seed Neshannock its first loss May 6. Yates supplied three hits, including a three-run double, to help lift the Bobcats to a 6-4 decision.
"I have to give credit to my coaching staff," Herstine said. "My coaches, Jeff Mullen, Ed Snitger and Mark Logan, were one of the biggest parts of our turnaround.
"They took the kids and did a lot of work with them, one on one. They really got through to them and helped correct the mistakes."