QUINCY -- The Quincy Notre Dame baseball team isn't shying away from expectations this season.
If anything, the Raiders are embracing them.
QND returns its main core of players and its entire pitching staff from last year's team that went 21-13 and won a Class 2A sectional. The Raiders lost only two seniors -- outfielder Johnny Ray and shortstop Wade Willer.
That means the bar will be set high this spring.
"We know even moreso we've got targets on our back this year," QND senior Brady Nierman said. "We've got to be ready for that. Teams are going to throw their best at us."
QND, however, can throw its best right back.
The Raiders return their top four starters in junior Tommy Ray and seniors Nick Wellman and Jase Wallingford. Sophomore Griffin Kirn -- who threw against Pleasant Plains in the sectional title game -- also returns. The foursome combined for 18 victories and logged more than 144 innings.
Ray, Wallingford and Wellman all posted earned run averages of less than 3.11.
"They all have another year of experience, so my expectation for them will be a lot higher," QND coach Ryan Oden said. "I expect them to not walk a leadoff batter or not to walk guys with two outs. I'm confident they understand what we expect out of them because their work ethic really shows in practice.
"I've been very pleased. I've got to remind my hitters they're facing some really good pitchers (in practice)."
Control was an issue for QND's pitchers at times last year. Ray, Wellman and Wallingford combined to walk 86 batters. They know those numbers can't be replicated this season.
"We have to make sure walks go down, especially in big games," Wallingford said. "If we throw strikes more and get out on top, we'll be fine throughout the year."
The offense can be just as strong.
Senior infielder Malachi Lentz returns after hitting .369 last season with 25 RBIs. He will be limited early since as he was cleared to return to from a knee injury just two weeks ago.
The Raiders also return plus-.300 hitters in Ray, Wellman and junior outfielder Dylan Foley. Nierman also hit .293, while junior Nick Schwartz hit .271. Those six combined for just five homers but drove in 114 runs.
Johnny Ray's bat will be missed from the top of QND's lineup, as he hit .411.
"Johnny's bat will be hard to replace," Oden said. "But if we have a couple guys step up, we'll be just fine."
This veteran team believes it can live up to the expectations and make a run at the state tournament.
"Everyone is going to be more relaxed this year," Wellman said. "We won't be playing tight or anything like that."
March 16 at Illini West 4:30 p.m.
March 17 Illini West 10 a.m.
March 17 QHS 4 p.m.
March 22 Highland 5 p.m.
March 24 QND Slam TBD
March 27 at Palmyra 5 p.m.
March 29 at Liberty 4:30 p.m.
March 31 at Jacksonville (DH) 11 a.m.
April 4 Hannibal 5 p.m.
April 7 at West Hancock 4:30 p.m.
April 11 Pittsfield 4:30 p.m.
April 12 Rushville-Industry 4:30 p.m.
April 13 Beardstown Tournament 6:15 p.m.
April 14 Beardstown Tournament 10 a.m.
April 16 Sacred Heart-Griffin 4:30 p.m.
April 20 at Warrenton 4:15 p.m.
April 23 at Unity 4:30 p.m.
April 24 Clark County 5 p.m.
April 25 Canton 5 p.m.
April 27 Central 4:30 p.m.
April 28 at Carrollton (DH) 11 a.m.
April 30 at Brown County 4:30 p.m.
May 1 at QHS 4 p.m.
May 3 West Hancock 4:30 p.m.
May 4 QND Tournament TBA
May 5 QND Tournament TBA
May 8 Macomb 4:30 p.m.
May 12 at Jacksonville Routt 11 a.m.