One way Randy Miller judges the progress North Hills baseball has made in his three seasons as coach is how many schools ask to play the Indians on their senior day.
That first year, in 2013, North Hills received four invites after winning just two section games the year before.
According to Miller, North Hills won each of the road senior day contests.
“We sent a message,” Miller said. “We're no longer the doormat.”
After making the playoffs in 2014, no one asked to end their regular season against North Hills last season.
“I'm really proud of that,” he said. “Kinda shows you where we're going.”
Despite graduating eight players, including seven starters, from a team that missed making the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs via a head-to-head tiebreaker, North Hills' goals for the season have remained the same, according to Miller: win a section title, make the WPIAL playoffs, contend for a WPIAL championship and qualify for the PIAA tournament.
“These are things North Hills doesn't talk about a lot, especially in baseball,” Miller said.
Competing in a section with two of the last three WPIAL champions, if North Hills is going to come close to accomplishing those things, finding consistent offense will be key. The Indians' bats went silent at times during section play in 2015 and the results dictated the direction of the season.
North Hills was outscored 20-3 in its two meetings with fellow Section 1 member Butler. Those games gave Butler the decisive advantage in the third-place head-to-head tiebreaker over the Indians. North Hills also lost 2-1 against last-place Pine-Richland.
As a result of that team-wide inconsistent hitting, Miller said he used a rotating group of five outfielders, trying to play off of each person's performance at the plate. He said he doesn't yet know if he'll rely on the less-than-ideal system this year.
“The high school baseball season is a quick sprint,” he said. “You can't sit and wait for a student-athlete to get out of a slump.”
What shouldn't be a problem area is pitching. Everyone from the rotation that together had a 2.40 ERA last year returns, including Mike Serpa, a senior who went 4-1 with a team-best 1.40 ERA last season.
Miller doesn't yet know who will fill many of the lineup holes but expects the team's annual spring training trip to help with that process.
“A lot of that stuff is gonna flesh itself out,” Miller said.”Who's going to take advantage of that opportunity. And when we head north, who's going to be in that starting lineup.”