At the end of the 2013 season, it looked like the Polk State College Eagles would return six sophomores from a 34-16 season in which they placed third in the Suncoast Conference, one game out of second place.
But, following an outstanding recruiting season, which includes seven college transfers and five left-handed pitchers, the Eagles are ready for 2014 with experience and leadership.
"I think we added a good mix of young guys with the transfers who will hopefully bring some experience to the club," said fourth-year coach Al Corbeil.
The Eagles lost All-State and Polk saves record-holder Trey Norris (Frostproof/Stetson) and two-time All-State Defensive Player of the Year catcher Eric Hindmon (Ocala/South Alabama) to graduation.
Sweet led the Eagles in hitting (.309), runs (39), hits (55), stolen bases (30), walks (29), and triples (5).
He also hit for the cycle and has signed with Dallas Baptist University.
Pearce, a right-hander, was 6-1 with a 1.65 ERA over 81 innings. He concluded the season going 3-0 with a 17-inning scoreless streak. In two of his final three games, he fanned 10 batters.
"He has a bonafide No. 1 arm," said Corbeil.
Looking to the mound, the Eagles added right-hander Casey Kulina (Hummelstown/Penn State).
Kulina is Polk's projected No. 2 starter.
"He has a great work ethic and good stuff on the mound," Corbeil said. "He has a fastball, sharp breaking ball and can throw a change-up. Plus, he's a good influence on our pitchers."
Corbeil and pitching coach Brad Cook look forward to developing the young arms of lefty Jordan Barrett (Coral Springs), righty Cody Gamble (Suwannee), lefty Devin Vainer (Riverwood, Ga.) and lefty Hunter Kyzar (Palm Beach State College).
Around the infield, first base is up for grabs with Machonis, who played there some last year, Hayden Kelly (Pensacola State/FSU), and J.D. Osborne (All Saints), who played on the Canadian National team.
Second base is also a competition between Wong and Cole Ondrejka (Island Coast).
DeNoyelles moves from second base to shortstop following a great fall. He is signed with the University of Tampa.
Third base is also open with Wong and Osborne vying for the starting role.
"They all had really good falls," Corbeil said. "Shane is a pretty good hitter who has a good knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He hit .350 in the fall."
"Piatt is a strong lefty," Corbeil continued. "They all can do a good job running down the ball and all can hit a little bit. I'm excited about having a little bit of depth out there."
In terms of the lineup, it appears the Eagles have improved from their "station to station" ways of 2013 to additional pop, speed, and average.
Sweet, who can run and hit the long ball, again leads off for Polk.
DeNoyelles, Machonis, Kelly, Osborne, and Schroeder all have the ability to hit the ball out of the park and off the wall, according to Corbeil.
"We've got a little more opportunity to do some damage with one swing of the bat," Corbeil said.
Plus, Corbeil feels he has seven or eight players who can steal some bags.
The maturity factor can pay huge dividends from what Corbeil saw in the fall.
"I've been really pleased with how well the sophomores who came in have had a strong leadership role than we had last year. They know the expectations and they've been more in tune and more on top of things and they've been very open with the young guys. They are not selfish and have been kind of leading the way."
However, Corbeil is a veteran of Suncoast Conference play.
"We'll see once we get playing every day," he added. "Our conference is extremely tough. All the teams can beat you on any given night, but I think this club has a chance to hang with anybody. It will depend on how they mature, stay healthy and how our young pitchers mature."
The Eagles open the season Monday against St. Johns River College at home at 5 p.m.