It was just a year ago that Firelands came into the season with its eyes laser-focused on winning a Patriot Athletic Conference title and a district championship, goals that eluded them by a single game the year before.
The Falcons hit the bull’s-eye on both of those marks in 2018, winning the first district title in school history and going 16-0 in league play while going 26-4 and setting a school record for wins.
As a new season begins, the Falcons know the target has moved — and they’re wearing it.
“It’s different to be the hunted instead of the hunter,” All-Ohio senior Alex Brill said. “We know we’ve got a target on our backs so we can’t let up. We have to stay hungry and get better every day so no one can come back at us.”
Brill did it all last year, hitting .536 with 43 runs scored, 32 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. Brill, who can normally be found in the outfield but can play any position, also pitched 17 innings with a 0.82 ERA and 26 strikeouts.
Firelands coach Dan Ransom has seen his team come back even more focused and motivated after last year’s magical season ended with a 12-0 loss to Wapakoneta in the Division II regional semifinals.
“We’ve been doing a lot more in the weight room and the guys were hungry for it right from the start of the school year,” Ransom said. “This group has the mind frame that we have to work harder, take it more serious and bust our butts even more this year to take that next step.”
Senior shortstop-pitcher Austin Urban, who along with Brill is a four-year starter, had a 3-0 record last season, striking out over 25 percent of the batters he faced. Urban also hit .366 with 36 runs scored and 19 stolen bases.
“Breaking the school record (for wins) and winning district last year was crazy,” Urban said. “The difference this year is we’re not as nervous as we were last year. We know it’s not going to be easy, nothing ever is, but it should be a smoother and calmer year for us.”
The Falcons return pitchers who accounted for 17 wins last season. In the field they have returnees at all but two positions.
“These kids have a great work ethic,” Ransom said. “Alex and Austin have been great leaders keeping everyone focused, and we have a really good mix of younger and older kids.”
Firelands has had a solid baseball program for years — only finishing outside of the top two in the Stars Division once since joining the Patriot Athletic Conference in 2012 — but when Brill joined the team as a freshman he wasn’t sure he’d ever see the Falcons take the next step and be among the elite teams in the area.
“Thinking back to freshman year, I didn’t expect the program to come as far as it did and, honestly, it’s blown me away,” Brill said. “We’ve really come together as a great group of people, with great coaches and great families that support us, and it’s just been incredible.”
“The turning point was the end of my sophomore year,” Brill said. “We had a devastating loss (in the district final) and it just clicked that we could not end on that note again. Even since then we’ve really been working harder.”
Last year the Falcons outscored their opponents 217-104, with only 67 of the runs they allowed being earned.
“Practice has been as fun as it can be this year,” Urban said. “We know we’re targeted by everybody. We try to keep it all business all the time when we’re out on the field. It’s also good to be able to play loose and have fun with our teammates.”
Wednesday’s season opener against Huron will mark the end of an offseason of weight-room sessions, batting cages and fielding drills and, the Falcons hope, a return to what they have done best in recent years — winning baseball games.
“To say we’re excited is an understatement,” Brill said. “We’re beyond excited. I know I’ve been waiting since the last day of last season to get the chance to be back out on the field with my teammates again.”