COLUMBUS — The reigning Southeast Kansas League baseball champions Columbus Titans are looking forward to this year, and aware they have a target on their back.

According to Head Coach Scott Quinly the Titans were picked third in the SEK preseason coaches poll this year, behind Iola and Pittsburg.

“I’m happy with that,” Quinly said. “Right now we have a target on our back. We may have been picked third but in our minds we’re still number one.”

Quinly said he’s excited about the upcoming season and the program as a whole.

“We have 28 kids playing baseball,” he said. “Five years ago we had 12, my first year we had 18.

“Kids are getting excited about baseball.”

Quinly also said Columbus, which has not been a baseball town in the past is beginning to build some tradition and some buzz.

“You win 15 games and win your league when you’re not supposed to it opens some eyes,” he said. “Last year we thought we had a shot at the state tournament, but we kind of looked past Independence and they had a good game.”

Despite graduating some key players last year — including pitcher Chase Leonard, Quinly said he has a solid core of returning starters, most of whom have been with him since he started at Columbus four years ago.

“We have six seniors returning and a couple of juniors,” Quinly said, adding there’s a solid core of talented underclassmen behind them. “It’s going to be kind of hard to crack the line up, but I have some kids who can.”

The seniors include starting pitchers Travis Jones and C.J. Freeman.

Quinly said the Titans will continue to play “small-ball” which has been particularly successful for them, adding his players didn’t even pick up a bat for the first nine days of practice.

“We played catch and worked infield,” he said.

Baseball season opens 4:30 p.m. March 27 at Southeast.

(Editor’s note: The Cherokee County News-Advocate will be featuring stories about area softball and baseball teams for the next few weeks to give each team an opportunity to be spotlighted.)