To say the Belfast Area High School baseball team will be looking for its identity this season would be, perhaps, an understatement.

After losing 11 of its 13 players last season to graduation and having only one returning starter, the Lions are loaded with question marks to start the 2011 season. However, veteran coach George Ross, who is in his 30th season leading the team, is undeterred and encouraged by what he has seen thus far in the preseason and practices from his young team.

“We’re young, but we’ve got some talented kids,” he said.

That showed in a season-opening 8-1 win over host Mount View of Thorndike April 22.

Team members include seniors Winston Simmons (outfield), Craig Herbert (catcher), Lewis Dyer (outfield), Jake O’Jala (outfield), Ben Knowlton (outfield) and Andrew Smith (outfield); juniors Gabe Desjardins (third base, second base), Jordan Luther (pitcher, third base), Scott Kulikowski (pitcher, shortstop) and Tyler Prescott (first base, pitcher); sophomores Damien Benner (pitcher, shortstop), Lucas Clark (catcher, third base), Caleb Cook (outfield, pitcher) and Larry Dyer (first base); and freshman Greg Clark (second base).

Simmons and Herbert are co-captains and are the only returning players from last year’s team. Simmons was a starter in the outfield, while Herbert was the backup catcher last season.

Lost to graduation from last year were Jack Davis, Josh Beal, Eric Peters, A.J. Chasse, Derrick Bernosky, Nick Thibodeau, Mike Berry, Chris Brown, Matt Steinort, Matt Sanderson and Cote Ward. Steinort, Bernosky and Berry all were VillageSoup baseball notable selections last year, while Davis was not only first-team all-conference, but also selected VillageSoup’s male athlete of the year for 2009-10.

Needless to say, the Lions have holes to fill. However, coach Ross feels the players he has this season are up to the task.

“Very seldom in all the years I’ve coached have we had this much of a turnover, but we’re working on [finding our identity],” he said. “We’re trying to be a team that hustles all the time and tries to be as disciplined as we can.”

Last season, the Lions finished with an 8-8 record and were 11th in Eastern Class B, just missing the 10-team playoff field.

The Lions have were busy in the preseason, facing Mount Desert Island, Georges Valley, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and a few teams from New Hampshire and Massachusetts to prepare for the season.

“We’ve been playing pretty good defense and I’ve been pleased with that all the way though,” Ross said. “The pitching has been up and down and the offense has been up and down. But if we can play solid defense and we have been. You can build off that.”

Ross anticipates that with the current youth movement the Lions are going though, he feels his team likely will be able to grind it out to manufacture runs rather than relying on the long ball.

“I don’t think we’re going to have an enormous amount of power,” the coach said, though Benner and Lew Dyer each homered in preseason games for the Lions. “We have some kids that can hit the ball deep, but I don’t think that will be our identity. I think it’s going to be a lot more just scratching it out and playing small ball.”

As far as the top competition in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B division is concerned?

“The KVAC is a very strong baseball league,” he said, with the conference being the home of the state Class B champs in three of the last five seasons. “I think the team to beat is the defending state champion in Waterville. They have lost very little, so they’ve got to be the front runners.”

He added that Camden Hills should be contenders, as well as Winslow this year. But despite that fact, the Lions’ goal remains clear.

“The playoffs is always the goal,” Ross said. “I think we haven’t really made any set goals other than [playing] one game at a time and trying to get better and better.”

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.