With several players back from last season, and the addition of one who took last year off, fourth-year Bexley High School baseball coach Tom Marker said there's reason for hope.
"I think we're sitting well," he said. "We have a good core, returning basically our starting lineup from last year.
"With Grant Murphy coming back, that's huge for us. He'll be our cleanup hitter. I think we'll be head and shoulders ahead of where we were last year."
Murphy has returned to play catcher, where he started as a freshman and sophomore before taking last year off.
The Lions finished 12-15 overall last season, losing to top-seeded and eventual state champion DeSales 8-0 in a Division II district semifinal. Bexley defeated Independence 10-0 in the first round and upset sixth-seeded Licking Heights 9-4 in the second round.
"It was 0-0 against DeSales in the fourth inning," Marker said. "Part of it was guys were young. I think this year they get that big hit when we need it. This could be the year we break through, for sure."
Bexley tied Lakewood for fifth (5-9) in the MSL-Ohio Division last season, behind Granville (13-1), Newark Catholic (12-2), Licking Valley (9-5) and Columbus Academy (6-8) and ahead of Heath (4-10) and Whitehall (2-12).
The Lions lost only one player from a year ago to graduation in Travon Bowman (1B/2B).
Back are seniors Jimmy Kahan (CF) and Tyler Kondracke (P/2B), juniors Will Davis (P), Marshall Drewry (3B/P), Alex Eikenberry (LF) and Tate Hughes (SS) and sophomores Ethan Bredemeier (RF) and Josh Shapiro (P/1B).
Last season, Shapiro hit .367 with 25 RBI and was 5-3 with a 3.90 ERA. Kahan hit .328 with 13 RBI and Drewry batted .319 with 13 RBI.
Others expected to contribute are junior Ben Jaffy (INF), sophomores Drew Elliott (P/1B) and Chase Roddy (RF) and freshman Eric Callahan (2B/P).
Shapiro was first-team all-league and second-team all-district a year ago.
"He's our workhorse (on the mound)," Marker said. "He's a lefty and he throws in the mid-80s. He throws three pitches for strikes and works hard."
The Lions open Saturday, March 30, with a doubleheader at Richburg (S.C.) Lewisville. Their home opener is Wednesday, April 3, against Amanda-Clearcreek, and their league opener is two days later at Licking Valley.
Softball squad looking to improve
Fourth-year softball coach Rick Wemlinger believes the Lions can improve on last season's 7-19 finish.
Bexley lost to top-seeded and eventual district champion DeSales 10-0 in the second round of the Division II district tournament after beating Brookhaven 19-0 in the first round.
Bexley finished seventh (0-12) in the MSL-Ohio behind Licking Valley (11-1), Granville (10-2), Lakewood (9-3), Heath (6-6), Newark Catholic (4-8) and Whitehall (2-10).
"I think this year we'll have a shot at beating a couple teams in the league," Wemlinger said. "But I'm a realist. I tell the kids there are some teams in the league we just can't compete against yet.
"Out of the league, I told them, there's not a team there we can't defeat. I'm looking at having 15 wins this year. Whether we can do it, I don't know."
Winning those non-league games could be the difference between playing a few winnable games early in the postseason or again facing a team like DeSales.
"If we could've won three or four more non-league games last year we would've had a much better seed and wouldn't have had to play No. 1-seed DeSales," Wemlinger said. "A few more wins get you out of that spot and maybe gets you two wins in the district (tournament)."
Bexley opens at home against Eastmoor Academy on Tuesday, April 2, and begins league play April 5 at home against Licking Valley.
The Lions return four all-league players from a year ago in senior shortstop Briana Stewart (first team), junior third baseman Abby Lowenstein (honorable mention), junior second baseman/pitcher Jordan Nagle (second team) and junior center fielder/pitcher Sidney Woodford (honorable mention).
Last season, Stewart batted .323 with five home runs and Nagle hit .343.
Lost to graduation were Bethany Barnes (1B) and Jena St. Aubin (INF). Barnes hit .360 and was honorable mention all-league.
Other returnees include juniors Kayley Barno (1B/OF) and Elizabeth Williams (C) and sophomore Abby Barno (LF/C).
The team also includes freshman Ashley Barno (2B/OF), juniors Kayleigh Dietz (RF), Gabby Shapiro (P/DH) and Hope Stewart (1B) and sophomores Paige Gutter (1B/OF) and Taylor Moore (2B/OF).
Kayley Barno, Nagle and Woodford will serve as captains.
"These kids, the first day of practice, before anyone was in the locker room were standing at the door and setting up goals with each other," Wemlinger said. "They've grown up a lot. They're very mature this year and they get along so well. They're good kids who really enjoy each other."