East Peoria rode an 11-1 finish in the 2014 Mid-Illini Conference baseball season to a co-title with Washington.

The 11-3 record in league play gave the Raiders their third championship in the last six seasons.

East Peoria rode an 11-1 finish in the 2014 Mid-Illini Conference baseball season to a co-title with Washington.

The 11-3 record in league play gave the Raiders their third championship in the last six seasons.

Despite losing all five of its first- or second-team all-M-I selections, East Peoria is not ready to give up its place this spring.

Flying under the radar at the start is fine with the Raiders, who were 17-14 overall a year ago.

“It’s nice to be an underdog again. I feel like winning the league didn’t put a target on our back this year because we lost so much pitching,” EPCHS head coach Matt Plummer said.

“I think we will be competitive again. Baseball is a funny game.  There are a lot of ways to win and a lot of ways to lose. I like our chances.”

In 2014, East Peoria improved by seven victories overall and by five in conference play from the previous season.

There are plenty of experienced players back, plus some newcomers capable of contributing right away, to give the Raiders optimism for this campaign.

“I love my team. They are a very fun group. They keep the mood light and work very hard,” said Plummer. “I expect that being a tight-knit group will help us a great deal throughout this tough schedule.”

Juniors Zack Hogan and Tanner Kellum will be the catchers. The scrappy tandem has shown good receiving skills and the ability to throw out runners.

Sophomore Noah Hornung is back to play third base. In 13 varsity games, he hit .281.

Next to him at shortstop is senior Jake Plummer, the coach’s son. He drove in 12 runs last year.

Colin Dearing, a junior, will shift to second base after a .277 debut season in which he cracked nine doubles and provided 12 RBIs.

Junior Braden Stewart and sophomore Brock Crippen both will draw starting assignments at first base.

Max Kapusta, a junior, is the backup when any of the infielders are on the mound.

Senior Jakob Burtis returns to play center field. He posted a .307 average with 20 runs last spring.

Twin brother Hayden Burtis is expected to play left field after appearing in 20 games as a junior.

Junior Mason Durdel is slated for right-field duty.

Depending on pitching arrangements, Stewart also play in the outfield.

Senior Dom Schank and Josh Spokely and Karson Richardson, both juniors, are outfield candidates as well.

Schank typically will be the designated hitter and bat lead-off to utilize his speed. As a junior reserve, he was second for the Raiders with 11 stolen bases.

Behind him in the order, Jakob Burtis is a lefthanded hitter who can hit, bunt and run.

Dearing’s hot-swinging bat should place him in the No. 3 spot, ahead of emerging clean-up hitter Hornung.

Offseason weight-room efforts should make Hayden Burtis and Plummer factors in the No. 5 and 6 slots.

Durdel and Crippen are young players East Peoria hopes will grow into their lower-order roles.

Stewart aims to be the squad’s second lead-off hitter in the ninth position.

Veteran Raiders baseball fans will remember 2004, when the team used the pitching trio of Ryan Driskill, Alyx Donaldson and Craig Culp to earn a share of the conference baseball title and a berth in the Class AA Canton Sectional final.

East Peoria plans to employ a similar rotation of hurlers each game.

“We have a number of guys that will try to fill the void on the mound this year,” said Plummer.

Sophomore righthander Brayden Weber, who has pop on his fastball, was targeted for the first action, followed by Stewart, a lefthander who can slow opposing running games. With command of three pitches, Dearing is the closer.    

A weekend trio could be Jake Plummer, Crippen and Hornung. Durdel and the Burtis twins are other possibilities.

Sophomore Grant Hagedorn also is a member of the team.

The Raiders lost both of their first-team all-conference southpaws, Kevin Ulrich and Brock Stewart, to graduation.

Two-time first-team all-conference catcher Ryan Slusher exhausted his high school eligibility as well.

Also gone are second baseman Mitch Gnehm (first team) and first baseman Derrick Runyon (second team).

The league will be formidable, headlined by 2014 Class 3A third-place state finisher Metamora, which has at least four future Division-I players.

Washington returns an ace and several key hitters, plus picked up reigning Journal Star Player of the Year Jarrod Watkins, a transfer from Notre Dame.

Limestone’s pitching staff, Plummer said, may be the most complete in the M-I.

East Peoria added an April 4 twin bill against Tremont and a May 9 home contest against Brimfield.

Edwardsville and Notre Dame no longer are on the Raiders’ schedule.

East Peoria gained a season-opening sweep of Farmington Saturday with 5-3 and 12-2 victories at Dave Rodgers Field.

In the opener, Schank and Hornung had three hits apiece, while Stewart and Dearing both were 2 for 3. Hornung and Stewart both tripled and drove in a combined three runs. Schank also collected a RBI.

The third pitcher, Dearing, was the winner in relief after the Raiders scored three times in the bottom of the sixth inning.

East Peoria needed only five innings to dispatch the Farmers in game two.

Stewart, Dearing, Schank, Plummer and Kapusta all had two hits among the Raiders’ dozen.

Kapusta knocked in three runs and Plummer and Stewart, who rapped a double, chipped in two apiece.

Hornung, Dearing, Kellum and Crippen all supplied RBIs as well.

Plummer, the middle hurler, was credited with the victory after fanning four with no walks in his stint.

The hosts completed the sweep with a four-run fifth inning.

East Peoria’s season continues Wednesday at Chillicothe against Illinois Valley Central.

Coaching line-up: The Raiders’ 2015 staff is fortified.

Jeff Millard is the varsity assistant to Plummer. Chris Frasco and Tom Stonebock will direct the sophomore and freshman teams, respectively.

“I feel that we have the best coaching staff that I could possibly assemble,” Plummer said.