MAHOMET – Mark Jones had reason to be worried after last spring's high school softball season ended.
His 19-win Mahomet-Seymour squad was graduating eight seniors. Just one returning player, Sarah Frerichs, batted above .250 in 2007.
And yet, the Bulldogs coach entered this season, he said, with "high expectations."
The nucleus of his current team played together on a 21-2 junior varsity team,
"I knew they could play ball," he said, though he recognized immediate success wouldn't be a given.
"From the junior varsity to the varsity, there's a big difference in the quality of the play," Jones said.
The reason his confidence remained strong went beyond what he saw on the scoreboard.
"What I looked at was how well they got along and bonded," Jones said.
"In the summer, there was no bickering or fighting. This has been an easy group to coach."
M-S showed its resiliency on Thursday, rallying from a 3-1 deficit with a four-run sixth inning that produced a 5-3 triumph against Corn Belt Conference rival Bloomington Central Catholic.
Cleanup batter Mel Weimer belted her second consecutive extra-base hit, an opposite-field triple, to snap a 3-3 tie. The senior never considered this might be a rebuilding season.
"We're hard workers and we felt we'd be strong," Weimer said. "When you work hard, it will pay off."
Third baseman Weimer was part of a noteworthy defensive play that ended the second inning.
BCC's Megan Fitzgerald led off with a single, advanced to second on an infield out and then stole third. M-S catcher Jessica Klaus then hooked up with Weimer on a pickoff play to thwart the threat.
It's not a play that Jones discourages and the Bulldogs have executed it more than a half-dozen times.
"(Klaus) has a quick release and we give her a green light," Jones said.
Weimer said she's not concerned about the snap throw getting away from her.
"If there's an overthrow, we know the outfield is there to back us up," she said. "We trust in each other."
The recipient of the strong defense – which also featured a double play to end the first inning – was junior pitcher Hannah Reece (5-3).
An arm ailment had prevented her from throwing "even a single pitch," Jones said, from August until January and Reece was an unknown entering the season.
Now, the coach said, she's close to being the team's No. 1 pitcher.
"She's not flashy, but she's consistent and keeps the ball down," he said. "She has been pitching as well as anyone lately. She pitched a good game."
Reece issued one walk and had one stretch where she retired 10 of 11 Saints. She shut out BCC in six of seven innings and retired the final four batters she faced.
Weimer and Courtney Roberts led M-S' seven-hit attack. Both were 2 for 3. Roberts drove in the team's first run.
The Bulldogs are 13-7 and improving every week.
"Slowly but surely it's falling into place," Jones said.
Recent practice efforts paid off against the Saints.
"We've worked on (hitters) going to right field," Jones said.
During the four-run uprising in the sixth, Natalie Hooker and Weimer each swatted triples into right field. Weimer's shot went over Mary Joseph's head and hit the fence on a bounce.
"We had our backs to the wall and were able to respond," Jones said.
He sees the potential for the team to reach the 20-win mark for the first time since 2004 and to contend for a regional title.
"We'll have to play good defense and get solid pitching," he said.
Just like Thursday.