Last summer provided a little rejuvenation for Ambridge-Baden's American Legion baseball team.
After battling through a few rough seasons where the team didn't have much overall depth and experience in order to compete against the regularly competitive squads in the Beaver County League, Steve Antolic's group emerged from its regular season with a winning record and made the regional playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
"It was a special season," he said. "The previous two years were down years, so to win some games and beat quality teams -- you could see the excitement in the kids and see their confidence grow.
"It snowballed from there and we ended up having a good season."
Ambridge-Baden went 14-3 during the regular season and earned the No. 2 seed in last summer's local district playoffs. Despite losing to River City in the semifinals, the team was offered a spot in the Region 6 tournament after River City could not fill its commitment to play.
Ambridge-Baden went on to beat Bethel Park and West Mifflin in the first two days of the tournament before getting eliminated after losses against Beaver County rival Blackhawk and West Mifflin.
Back for his fourth season as the manager of Ambridge-Baden, Antolic has welcomed back a solid core from last year's roster.
"We have a lot of kids back, so our expectations were high going into the season," he said. "We have four guys back who have already played a season of college baseball. We feel we have a strong team. Our confidence is high and our expectations are high.
"We just have to go out and do something now."
Ambridge-Baden owned a7-4 record after defeating Central Valley, 8-0, Monday. Ambridge-Baden won a doubleheader against South Side June 20, earning a 7-2 decision in the first game and a 3-0 victory in the second game.
"We haven't completely jelled just yet," Antolic said. "We need more games to get us on track with what we hope to do, and that's to compete for a championship."
Shortstop T.J. Kuny (Saint Vincent), first baseman Colton Gossett (Clarion), pitcher Jamie Dean (La Roche) and third baseman/pitcher Steve Antolic Jr. (Georgia Southwestern), who is a son of the coach, are each coming off their first season playing at the collegiate level and highlight Antolic's veteran-led lineup.
Pitcher Shawn Holman, a Canisius College recruit, pitcher/infielder Grant Smith, a Point Park recruit, catcher Marshall Volosh, left fielder Kody Nichi and center fielder Jacob Griffith were all senior members of the Ambridge Area High School varsity team and also return as starters. Griffith, incidentally, was this year's class valedictorian.
The Bridgers went 3-10 in Section 1-AAA this past spring and finished their season with an overall record of 4-10.
Catcher Matt Corraini, outfielder/pitcher Matt Cunningham and utility man Zach Dugan are coming off their junior seasons. Outfielder Noah Krononka, outfielder Kevin Holman, infielder Travis Holman and outfielder Jared Cunnard are also expected to add depth to Antolic's roster.
Travis and Shawn Holman are brothers and cousins of Travis Holman.
Antolic believes roster depth will likely play the biggest factor in Ambridge-Baden's overall success this summer.
"Especially this week," he said. "I will have five kids missing because they're going on vacation, so I'll have to use kids from our Colt League [team]. These kids are on our roster and we're confident with them out there.
"The younger kids have already been stepping in and hopefully we'll keep moving right along. When you have guys who go on vacation or can't make a game because of work, you need the younger guys to step right in."
Ambridge-Baden will continue to compete among Unionville, Hopewell, Center-Monaca and New Brighton in the Beaver County League's East Division.
"On paper, we look good but we have to perform," Antolic said. "We played Hopewell two weeks ago and they 10-run [ruled] us. I think that was a wakeup call. You can't expect to show up and win; you have to perform.
"This league is balanced, but anything could happen on any night. Everything seems to be heading in the right direction. As long as we continue to have the commitment from our players and they show up ready to compete, we'll be able to keep competing."