QUINCY -- Reaching the NCAA Division II Baseball Championships last spring for the first time in program history allowed Quincy University coach Josh Rabe to close an unfulfilled chapter of his playing career.
His players believe they have unfinished business of their own to tend to this spring.
The Hawks won their first Midwest Regional championship last spring and made it to the elite eight in Grand Prairie, Texas. However, they were sent home without winning a game, surrendering leads in losses to Colorado Mesa and UC-San Diego.
"It was awesome to experience that and go down there," said senior right fielder J.C. DeMuri, a preseason All-American who returns after hitting .350 with 11 home runs and a team-leading 61 RBIs. "But at the same time, we also know there's potential that wasn't realized.
"There's unfinished business that we didn't take care of last year."
Rabe understands that.
"Yes, it would be nice to win a couple games at the World Series and find ourselves in the national title game," he said. "No doubt it would be. We've got to win a few games first."
That means turning the page.
"It's a new team," Rabe said. "New players. New personalities. A lot of new things. The expectations are a little bit more."
In some ways, they are. In other ways, they're not.
Quincy opens its season Saturday with a trip to Cleveland, Miss., for a game against Southern Indiana and two games against preseason No. 1 Delta State. The Hawks were tied for ninth in the National College Baseball Writers Association preseason poll and 16th in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's top 25.
Shouldering the expectations linked to a national ranking are nothing new.
"I remember the first meeting we had when I came in as a freshman, and they said we had been picked as a top-10 team or something like that," senior first baseman Troy Wehde said. "Ever since then, it's basically been the same thing."
Never has that changed Rabe's approach. Nor will it this time.
He and his coaching staff intend to develop a lineup that opposing pitchers fear and a rotation that controls the tempo of a game.
And as expected, the process begins with finding the right mix of pitcher. The Hawks return sophomore left-hander Riley Martin at the top of the rotation and will fill in behind him with unproven arms.
Martin went 6-3 with a 5.19 earned run average, striking out 55 in 69 1/3 innings. He pitched six scoreless innings in the region championship game against Northwood and is the de facto ace.
"This year, it's a different feeling," Martin said. "I'm so much more comfortable having one year of college baseball under me. I'm ready to take on that role."
Sophomore right-hander Jimmy McDonald, sophomore left-hander Sam Stephens, senior right-hander Nick Stroud and senior lefty Aaron Stone likely will fight for the other starting spots. That group has six career starts among them, but Rabe doesn't see the lack of experience as a hindrance.
"Go out there and pitch," Rabe said. "They have to throw strikes. They have to work ahead. They have to dictate action."
And they want to turn the lead over to the bullpen.
The return of two set-up men -- sophomore right-hander William Sanchez and sophomore left-handr Alex Pribyl -- and senior closer Cole Crawford is a comfort for whoever starts. Crawford had 12 saves last season, including three in the region tournament, and relishes his role.
"I'm ready to slam the door," he said. "There's a lot of confidence coming off last year. My teammates trusting me at the end of the game to hand me the ball is an honor."
Offensively, the Hawks expect to swing the bats much the way they have in recent years.
They have a get-on-however-you-can tone-setter at the top of the lineup in senior shortstop Brynn Martinez, power in the middle of the lineup in DeMuri and Wehde and the addition of two big bats at catcher and designated hitter.
Jake Viaene, a senior transfer from Southern Miss, and Jeff Hightower, a junior transfer from Saint Joseph's, will split time at those positions. Viaene hit .323 in 23 games for the Eagles last spring, while Hightower had 18 home runs and 10 doubles as the Pumas reached the NCAA Tournament.
"On paper, the lineup is OK," Rabe said. "We can move the ball around and can hit the ball out of the ballpark, which I like."
The pitching staff knows it can rely on that.
"If we pitch it, we're definitely going to hit," Martin said.
That combination can define a new chapter in QU baseball history.
"You can't look back to the accomplishments that were achieved," Crawford said. "You have to look up to the accomplishments that are to be achieved. That's what we're going to do."