CRESTVIEW — Fans attending Crestview High School baseball games this spring might not recognize many of the players without a scorecard.
The Bulldogs graduated four-year starters Dakota Dean and Tyler Henderson, as well as another half-dozen players who contributed to two district championships.
Crestview Coach Tim Gillis, now in his 12th year as the head man, isn't focusing on who he lost, but rather the players he has coming back.
"I've always been told if you talk about rebuilding that gives you an excuse to lose and that's not the way we think," he said. "We are anticipating being in the mix, having a chance to go to the playoffs and having a chance to win it all.
"Our expectations are going to be high always."
The Bulldogs will be strong up the middle with Austin Armstrong returning for his fourth season at catcher. Sophomore Corey Armstrong (no relation to Austin), who started at second base moves over to shortstop to replace Dean.
"That's big (to have the Armstrongs anchoring the defense)," Gillis said. "You always want to be strong up the middle. Last year we had some really good players, but we also had some guys that answered the bell and had strong years and that's why we were successful.
"You are not going to be able to count on one or two people or just think you are going to run them out there and be great. You have to have the whole program right down to the parents, players and coaches having a collaborative effort in order for you to be successful. That's what we had last year that made it special and that's what our expectations are this year."
Senior Matt Gillis, the son of Tim Gillis, has waited his turn and replaces Henderson in centerfield. He'll be joined in the outfield by Drew Graham, Hunter Sullivan and Pierce Cadenhead.
In addition to Dean, the Bulldogs must replace first baseman Seth Thomason on the infield. Corbin Carroll and Matt French will battle for time at first and whoever has the hot bat will likely play.
With Corey Armstrong moving to short, Hunter Willis becomes the every day second baseman. Justin Abdo and Travis Wiljakainen will spend time at third. J.R. Weeks is a solid defensive player that will probably see time at every infield slot depending on who is pitching.
Abdo, Gillis, Armstrong, Wiljakainen, French and Hunter will handle the bulk of the pitching as the Bulldogs look to replace Roman Donofro and Davis Champion.
Tim Gillis said Abdo, who recently signed with Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton, Ala., has an above average arm. Matt Gillis also signed with Jefferson Davis and gives the Bulldogs a left-hander on the mound they haven't had in several years.
"As far as pitching depth goes we will be as solid," Tim Gillis said. "We will see how good we will be on the front end (starting pitching). I expect our guys to be good just like they expect to be good and that's what it takes.
"A philosophy I sort of adhere to is you live up or down to your expectations and we are going to expect to be great and understand we may not be some days, but we will battle to be great."
Tim Gillis still has the same high expectations he sets for the Bulldogs every year.
"I really like these guys," he said. "We had a tremendous summer and played a lot of real good teams.
"Our expectations are to compete, to compete hard and to compete with class and see how it goes from there."
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.