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The Danville Hoots return to the Connie Mack World Series after a two-year absence.

Hoots manager Don Johns is bringing his team back to Farmington for the third time since 2009, but he said qualifying this year came as a surprise.

"We're really young. I honestly didn't think we'd be there," said Johns, whose team has 13 of its 21 players graduating in the 2015 or 2016 class. "We've played great, and it will set the stage for the future."

The California-based team will bring eight Division I commits, including catcher Tim Susnara, who was a 34th round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants and will play college ball at the University of Oregon.

The Danville team will rely a lot on defense and hitting to help out an inexperienced pitching staff that has lost players to offseason college workouts.

"We're going to play good defense. They've been very solid, and that's why we're moving on," Johns said. "Pitching is going to be a challenge. We lost pitchers to summer programs, which has been a problem more so out West than in other parts of the country, I think."

The Hoots made it through the CMWS West Regional, dropping only one game to the 2012 CMWS champion and 2013 runner-up SoCal Renegades. The team struggled with the Renegades throughout the year, but a loss to their SoCal rivals in Utah was the turning point in the Hoots' summer.

"We lost in the Gates World Series to the Renegades. Sometimes, that can destroy a young team or make you stronger," Johns said. "I'd say that loss made us stronger."

The Renegades were knocked out of the West Regional after losses to the Las Vegas Mayhem and NorCal Baseball. The Hoots went on to defeat NorCal 6-4 in the final to clinch the bid.

The Hoots will start their series with D-BAT Gallegos in the noon game on Saturday. Johns emphasized pitching will be key if his team is to win the opener and try to make a run at the title.

"I think we're going to have to get a lot out of our pitching. We're going to play defense. Our young pitchers will have to keep us in the game. When we've been down, we've been able to come back," Johns said. "Every day is getting tougher, and we can't afford to not execute."

Joshua Perry is the sports editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and jperry@daily-times.com. Follow him @jperrysuu on Twitter.