Shawn Murphy is hoping familiar faces will produce a familiar outcome.
Last summer, Murphy’s first as the Billings Royals’ coach, he guided the blue squad to its first State AA Legion baseball championship since 2005. And many of the same names who starred for the Royals in last year’s title run are back for more in 2013.
“It’s nice to have kids back who know what it took for us to get that done last year,” said Murphy, whose squad went 38-16 last year. “We had a team last year that played pretty good all season, but then really gelled at the end of the season and we were pretty much unbeatable.
“We’ve got kids back who have the confidence that we can play like that all the time once we all get on the same page.”
The Royals are off to a 4-3 start this season after three wins over the Miles City Outlaws and winning one of four against Missoula. They'll take the field at Dehler Park on Friday in a 5 p.m. non-conference game against the Billings Scarlets to kick off the Memorial Day Alumni Tournament.
On Saturday, the Royals will face the alumni at 2 p.m.
Tanner Leenknecht, who split time at catcher last year with Nick Scanson, returns behind the plate.
Around the infield, Chance Ackerman (third base) and T.J. Jacobs (shortstop) are both third-year starters, while Joe Zimmer (second base) and Konner Wiechman (first base) are both returning starters.
Pete Lind will serve as a backup at all of the infield positions in addition to being part of the starting pitching rotation. Murphy said Lind and Matt Dillon will see plenty of action at designated hitter.
In the outfield, Matt Shelhamer has moved to center field after starting in left last year. He’ll be flanked by a pair of newcomers — Taylor Goselin in left field and Spencer Bower in right.
On the mound, Lind, Ackerman and Wiechman will be joined by D.J. Baxter in the starting rotation to start the season. Dillon, Wyatt Summers and Kevin Angland will also see plenty of innings.
“We’ve got a deep pitching staff again this year … that was a big key for us last year,” said Murphy. “When you get into a tournament format or a busy week where you’ve got eight or 10 games, you need a lot of arms.
“The way our pitching and defense came around for us at the end of the season last year was huge. These kids can swing the bat and we’re going to score runs. The key is pitching and defense and not allowing teams to outscore us.”
With no shortage of veterans on the team, Murphy is confident that leadership will not be an issue.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who have been around and know how we do things,” he said. “Chance is kind of our quiet, lead-by-example guy and T.J. and Joe are the more vocal guys I know I can go to to get people going when things aren’t going right. It’s a good group of kids who love to play the game.
“The kids know that last year is over and we need to start all over to prove ourselves again. They also know that because we are the defending champs that teams are going to come after us with their best effort.”
Murphy will once again be assisted by his father, Doug.