After years of watching and admiring Madison's baseball program from the outside, Shannon Barger finally gets a chance to coach the Cubs when Madison opens its season today.

Barger was a member of Seymour's 1988 state championship team, coached at both Brownstown and Switzerland County and was athletic director at Scottsburg. He was hired to replace Hall-of-Famer Gary O'Neal and will coach his first games today in a doubleheader at home against East Central.

"I've met a lot of great people and we have a lot of great help here," Barger said. "It's been everything I thought it would be. Now we just hope we have the season we think we can have. Then we would be a lot better."

Madison typically plays its first game on the first Friday of the season as part of the Triple Crown Classic. But a scheduling conflict forced Vincennes Lincoln to withdraw this year so the Cubs will now host East Central for two games today.

The belated start will actually be a blessing for Madison. Due to the cold and wet weather, the team has not had a chance to practice on the field much.

"It's been terrible. Today was only the second day we've been outside," Barger said. "Hopefully it will be nice this weekend."

The team Barger inherits from O'Neal is a nice mix of youth and veterans that the coach hopes gels into a strong team by the end of the season. There are a few holdovers from last year's sectional runner-up squad but also a few new faces who could emerge.

The leader will be senior Ryan Thurston, who has already signed to play baseball at Western Kentucky in the fall. The left-hander has been Madison's best pitcher the past two seasons and is considered by many to be one of the best hurlers in southeastern Indiana.

Thurston's battery-mate Logan Kleopfer is in his third season as the starting catcher and Barger expects the pair to be his leaders.

"I've already talked to Ryan and Logan and they both know their roles," Barger said. "I think both will do a good job of leading the team."

Second baseman Brandon Mann and Kyle Callahan are the team's only other seniors.

Thurston will be the ace but he won't shoulder the load alone. Sophomore Derek Anderson, who got stronger as last season wore on, will be the number two starter and junior Clark Vaughn will be the No. 3.

Sophomore Ethan Leach, a move-in playing his first season at Madison, will start at shortstop and will also be the team's No. 4 starter.

"We feel like we are pretty deep in pitching and that's a good thing," Barger said. "Ethan is just a sophomore but he's a nice player and I'm going to start him at shortstop. And Clark has maybe the best arm of the group."

The one aspect of the team that Barger has been the most pleased with has been how hard teh players have worked. Thurston's father, Dan, was the head coach for three seasons before his promotion as Madison police chief last year forced him to resign coaching duties. O'Neal stepped in last year as a one-year replacement.

"It's hard have three coaches in three years. All of us have different styles and different things of what we expect," Barger said. "But they have adjusted well and are doing well. I couldn't be happier."

Madison's early-season schedule has already been adjusted somewhat. Along with losing the Lincoln game, the Cubs need to reschedule Tuesday's contest with Greensburg. Most of the Pirates baseball team played on Greensburg's state championship basketball team and the school wants more time to get ready.

Barger doesn't know when the Greensburg game will be rescheduled, but the Cubs play at Southwestern Thursday, host Lawrenceburg Friday and face both Columbus East and Floyd Central at Floyd on Saturday.

"We have a pretty busy week ahead of us even without the Greensburg game," Barger said. "We have some quality opponents and it ought to be a good way to start the season."