That the Shorter baseball team did as the Hawks closed out the 2012 season, their final one as a NAIA program, ranked in the national poll and earning a berth in the national tournament.
This weekend, the Hawks open a new year just as determined – this time tasked with proving they are ready and able to rise to the challenges that awaits them in their first season of competing as an NCAA Division II team in the nationally respected Gulf South Conference.
"The guys know what's ahead," head coach Matt Larry said as Shorter prepares to open what is a rugged schedule on the road Saturday and Sunday against Division II foe Florida Tech for a three-game series in Melbourne, Fla. "They want to make a statement."
The Hawks last year as they rolled up 39 wins, claimed a berth in the NAIA national tournament and notched a top 25 ranking made a statement.
Larry, however, knew all too well that with the loss of six frontline position players and some key pitchers from that 2012 squad, in order for Shorter to be competitive in its first season in the GSC that the Hawks would have to look for immediate help and did so by bringing in experienced transfers with some talented freshmen.
"We needed transfers to be competitive in the Gulf South Conference," Larry said, "Players who are mature enough to play in what is a very, very tough NCAA Division II conference. It's a highly respectable DII conference that has a lot of tradition."
That goes without saying, as the GSC is a conference that has produced six national champions and year after year sees its teams become national contenders.
Former members Jacksonville State and Troy State won two each before making the move to the Division I level, while Delta State (2004) and West Florida (2011) have one each.
Not surprisingly, the most recent titleholders are regarded as the top two teams to beat, with Delta State entering the season as the defending GSC champion and ranked No. 2 in the national preseason poll having reached the 2012 national championship game.
Larry also expects that North Alabama, Valdosta State, Alabama-Huntsville and West Alabama all have the ability to make a run.
"We're going to be competitive," Larry said about what the Hawks bring to the diamond, "but right now we're concerned about depth and how we play in the late innings."
The infield will include many new faces. Up the middle, sophomore transfer Darrius Jennings of Stockbridge, who comes to Shorter from Division I Southern University, and junior transfer Jesse Gavigan of Franklin, Tenn., who played at Columbia (Tenn.) State junior college, will line up at second and shortstop, respectively; and at third base junior transfer Dustin Evans of Semmes, Ala., by way of Faulkner State will get the nod.
Will Harrison of McDonough, a transfer from Truett-McConnell who is returning from a hand injury who will be Shorter's designated hitter and see time at first.
"Defense-wise, we'll be okay," Larry said about the Hawks' infield look, "but we'll have to manufacture runs offensively."
The feather the Hawks have in the offensive cap comes in the outfield, where two key producers last year will roam and give Shorter the firepower at the plate.
The outfield will feature senior Cal Hardie of Bremen in right field, who will be at the top of the batting order this season for the Hawks after hitting .320 last year, scoring 46 runs and stealing 21 bases.
In left field, junior transfer Taylor Herndon of Phenix City, Ala., who joins the Hawks after playing at Truett-McConnell, will get the nod, while junior Charlie Gillis of Cedar Bluff, Ala., who saw limited playing time last year, is ready to answer the call when needed.
"We are concerned about our depth," said Larry. "We have some guys in mind to step in when needed but that comes down to a test in time to see what they can do."
Shorter, however, will have a one-two plan behind the plate where two Hawks are expected to share the catching duties – junior Jacob Forrest of Columbus, who played in 10 games a year ago, and freshman Walker Borneman of Cataula.
What makes the transition easy for the two catchers is that they will be receiving the pitches from a staff that will be made up of corps that combines already-tested Shorter hurlers with an impressive group of transfers.
Returning to the mound includes senior starter Stuart Charleston of Gainesville, Fla., a right-hander who posted an 8-3 record last season with a team-best 3.03 ERA in 86 innings pitched and had 67 strikeouts.
Two other senior lettermen also return having combined for a 5-0 record last season as right-handers Ben Stell of Douglasville and Charles Thurman of Cartersville are armed and ready to fill either starting or relief roles.
Although he did not play in 2012, senior closer Eric Doty of Tampa, Fla., is back and primed to pick up where he left off two years ago when he was 8-2 with 2.49 ERA and eight saves for the Hawks, who have also welcomed senior transfer Cameron Rich of Peachtree City, who after being a key starter at Berry where he received his undergraduate degree will end his college career at Shorter where he has started working on his master's degree.
The Hawks will also look for help on the hill from four more newcomers: sophomore transfer Russell Crosby of Loganville, who arrives from Augusta State; junior Mark McClelland of Maryland Heights, Mo., who sat out 2012 at Shorter due to an arm injury and is in the final stages of finishing his rehab; senior transfer David Summerall of Davidsonville, Md. (University of the Cumberlands); and junior transfer Micah Thompson of Tallapoosa, who played at Savannah School of Art and Design.
After their season-opening trip to Florida, the Hawks visit Americus on Feb. 6 to face non-conference foe Georgia Southwestern then play their home opener Feb. 9-10 when they host Barry, like Florida Tech plays in the tough Sunshine State Conference.
Shorter also has non-GSC showdowns with DII powers Columbus State and Tusculum on its schedule, while the Hawks begin conference play on March 2 hosting North Alabama in a weekend series.