With more than half the team returning from a squad that touted a second place finish in the county last year, the Destin Middle School Marlin baseball team should be a team to reckon with on the diamond this season.

“We’ve got a good group of older kids. We’ve got several eighth graders coming back as well as seventh graders,” said first-year Destin Coach Matt Cawthon. “It’s a very experienced team.”

Out of the 16 on the roster, all but three are returnees.

Back in the lineup for the Marlins are eighth graders Luke Edelman, Jackson Crews, Aiden Garrity, Preston Murphy, Cooper Stanford, Blake Orr, Logan Cann and Parker Hill. Returning seventh graders are Donovan Monsees, Zander Davis, Ethan Davis, Dylan Matakevich and Caleb Reeder.

New to the roster are seventh graders Noah Wright and Alex Kruse, along with sixth grader Hunter Barber.

With so many back on the roster, Cawthon said the strength of the Marlins looks to be the “maturity level” of some of the older players.

“Some of these older guys can take control and lead the team in the right direction. I have a feeling we’ll be able to compete,” he said.

So far the pitching is looking good, Cawthon said, noting such players as southpaw Garrity, along with Edelman, Murphy and Kruse will be on the mound.

Backing up those guys will be a tried and tested defense.

“These guys have been playing together for quite some time,” Cawthon said. “The timing should be there. It’s a little early and we’re a little rusty. So we’ll try and knock the rust off and really work on our communication.

“But knowing the timing of each other is a big factor,” he added.

As for the bats, “We’re going to be able to hit the ball. That shouldn’t be a problem,” Cawthon said.

Last year, the Marlins combined for 25 home runs with Murphy leading the team with eight.

“The main thing is not hitting it right at somebody," Cawthon said. "You can crush the baseball and you can out-hit the other team every single time out. But you’ve got to find those openings and get some momentum.”

Although Cawthon is new to Destin baseball, he’s not new to Okaloosa County.

“I’m a product of the Okaloosa County school system,” said the 29-year-old from Crestview. “I haven’t coached in several years. But I’m excited to be here."

Cawthon’s last coaching job was with the Davidson Panthers of Crestview in 2012.

“The scenery is a lot different here,” he said while standing on the baseball field at Destin Middle that has a backdrop of walls of big whales at Legendary Marine and the Choctawhatchee Bay.

“I love the north end of the county … I haven’t been down here long, but I’m already falling in love with it,” he said.

The Marlins' first game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at home March 5 against the Pryor Pirates.

“We’re going to work hard and get out there and see what happens," Cawthon said. “I think we’ll be OK.”