WEST LAFAYETTE -- Talk about your tough breaks.

Veteran Ridgewood High baseball coach John Slusser was returning a solid core of experienced players with high hopes of improving on last year's 22-8 season on the diamond.

For the second year in a row, the Generals' season ended in the Division III district finals, falling to St. Clairsville, but the Generals had their sights set on advancing back to regional action this season.

Lady Luck dealt Slusser and the Generals a major blow just prior to the start of the new season, however, as three-year starter Brian McElhaney suffered a season-ending knee injury on a skiing trip. McElhaney, a senior. was slated to be the Generals' starting shortstop for the upcoming campaign.

"That's a big blow (losing McElhaney) because he is our best fielder," said Slusser, who enters his 16th season leading the RHS baseball program, "but more importantly, he was the 'guts' of our team...the glue. He kept everybody together and focused on the task at hand each and every day. Just a real hard-nosed, super kid, and we will really miss him."

To fill the void at shortstop, Slusser plans on using a combination of players at the position.

"We're going to have to rotate some players at shortstop for the first time in a while," Slusser said. "Trent Lingo will be there some, Zak Keesee will be there on certain days. Neither one is natural shortstop, but that's where we are now and we're just going to have to make it work."

The talent cupboard is hardly bare for the Orange and Black with four three-year lettermen back in seniors Dakota Albertson (CF-P) and Trent Lingo (SS-P) along with juniors Zak Keesee (SS-P) and C.J. Grove (1B-P).

Lingo finished with a .333 batting average last year with 15 RBI, while Grove compiled a .309 average with a team high 26 RBI. Albertson led the team with two home runs, along with 23 RBI and a batting average of .244, while Keesee checked in at .261 with 16 RBI.

"We have a solid nucleus, but losing 'Mac' (McElhaney) is a big blow," Slusser said. "I felt like we had one of the best teams in Division III coming back, and felt like we could compete for the state title, but we're not deep enough to lose someone like 'Mac'. Now we'll just have to keep going, and see how it all shakes out."

Other lettermen back for RHS are seniors Landon Smith (2B-P) and Jacob Bone (LF) along with sophomore Ryan Lowe (C-P), who contributed last season as a freshman.

Lowe finished at a solid .321, with 19 RBI while Smith was at .315 with 12 RBI.

A newcomer for the Generals who figures to see playing time is senior Scott Dawson (3B-P).

"Scott is a transfer from Newark who looks like he will play some for us," said Slusser. "Not sure what all he brings to the table, but it looks good thus far."

Rounding out the Ridgewood varsity roster are juniors Chris Davidson (1B-P), Kody Haines (RF) and Brett Mitchell (CF) and sophomore Seth Bergeron (2B).

On the mound, Lingo figures to be the Generals' number one option after turning in a 8-2 mark last season with a fine E.R.A of 1.47.

Pitching depth will be a strength for the Generals, as Grove, Albertson, Keesee, Lowe, Dawson and Smith will all see time on the mound.

In sizing up the race in the Inter-Valley Conference, Slusser feels it will come down to a battle between his Generals and Hiland.

"It will be us and Hiland the way I see it," the RHS coach said. "We're just going to have to beat them. We split with them the last few years. It will be a battle, I'm sure of that."

Slusser's coaching staff includes varsity assistants Travis Simmons, Troy Dolick, Dusty Shroyer and Brian Gress, while Lester McCurdy serves as the JV coach.

Ridgewood's junior varsity team includes juniors Ben Newell, Daniel Dotson, Hunter Wilkinson, Ryan Cognion, Jeremy Shamel, Jeff Connor, and Justin Swails; sophomore Tevis Whitt; and freshmen Logan Slusser, Zak Donley, Alex Crosston, Bruce Garrision, Gage Young, Seth Walters and Kelly Bartholow.