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Loaded. The Cloverdale Eagles are loaded — with talent, with experience, with wins.

There are seven seniors on this squad and three of them are four-year varsity starters. In the past three seasons, the Eagles have gone 65-15 overall and 40-3 in league en route to three straight North Coast Central I titles.

And still, despite the 8-0 start and 3-0 run to open league play, veteran coach Margaret Fitzgerald is not ready to coronate this crew.

“This is one of my better teams,” she said. “But they have to prove themselves to be my best team.”

A major test comes next week when the Eagles travel to Clear Lake, the NCL I runners-up in each of the last three seasons.

Eagles vs. Cardinals games are, in a word, intense.

“It’s a rivalry and it’s fun and it makes it competitive,” Fitzgerald said. “It makes it to where we are jacked up to play Clear Lake. That’s our test.

“They bring to the table what we bring to the table: Seniors,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s just who has the best game that day. They have pitching, they have it all.”

That they do.

And foremost among the Cardinals’ weapons might be senior Rachel Wingler, who was voted co-MVP of the NCL I last season. Clear Lake went 13-2 in league last year and has started out 3-0 this season before Tuesday’s game against Cloverdale.

But Cloverdale will show up with a staggering array of weapons.

The Eagles not only have catcher Jordyn Turner, the reigning All-Empire small schools player of the year, but the player who won that award two seasons ago, pitcher Teanne Edens. Add returning three-year starting third baseman and cleanup hitter Bailey Creager, and the Eagles have a squad that will be tough to beat.

“I have a core of seniors who have just been together so long,” Fitzgerald said. “They know each other. It’s not just pitcher and catcher, it’s kind of the whole package.”

This is a group that has not only played high school ball together, but suited up for the same club teams going back years.

“When one of us gets flustered, we know how to calm us down,” Edens said.

Edens doesn’t get flustered often.

The pitcher, who won All-Empire player of the year honors as a sophomore, has notched 67 strikeouts this season with just eight walks. She’s gunning for 800 career K’s.

“She is so confident on the mound. Confidence is everything in a pitcher,” Fitzgerald said. “She gets out there and she gets intense. She has ‘the look.’ If you have been a ballplayer, you know.”

It’s not just on the mound. Edens is hitting a team-leading .586 while Turner is hitting .480. Creager, batting cleanup, is hitting .370.

Creager said there is a comfort — and level of fun — that is brought out because the squad has known each other for years.

“I think that really helps us in bringing us together because we have been together so long,” Creager said. “Most of the time we are just there to have fun. When we are having fun, we are usually winning.”

As if the Eagles needed any help, but a slight drop in enrollment bumped Cloverdale down to Division 5 in the North Coast Section playoff bracket, while Clear Lake — the reigning Division 5 champ — bumps up to Division 4. All this with just 20 students separating the two schools’ 2014-15 enrollment.

“Dropping down a division this year kind of helps us,” Edens said. “I think we can win the entire thing. I think we can win league and we can win playoffs.”

For Fitzgerald, last year’s loss to No. 5 seed Berean Christian in the quarterfinals was a tough pill to swallow.

“It was a disappointment because I thought we should have gone further,” she said of her No. 4-seeded team.

Fitzgerald and her crew have four weeks before getting another crack at the postseason. But they won’t have to wait nearly as long for perhaps the toughest game they face all season. A trip to Clear Lake awaits Tuesday. Her players, for one, are looking forward to it.

“The tension is so tight,” Edens said of the rivalry. “We all want to beat each other so bad but we all know so many people on the team. We are friends off the field but on the field, we are enemies. It’s that tight.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”