With a more experienced and deeper roster at his disposal, third-year Canal Winchester High School baseball coach Jay Bartos is confident his team will win more consistently this season.
The Indians, who open Saturday, March 30, at home with a doubleheader against Lancaster, finished 13-13 overall last season.
"Last year, we had some guys who didn't perform up to the level they were expected to, and I probably stuck with them too long," Bartos said. "This year, we're a lot deeper and there isn't a lot of difference between a lot of our seniors and our sophomores, so if we have someone who is struggling, we can go with someone else. Having more depth and experience should help us improve our hitting and avoid falling into some of the slumps we had last year."
The Indians return seven starters in seniors Matthew Cunningham (OF/3B/P), Kevin Ilich (OF/SS), Colby Rapier (OF/SS), Jerod Shirley (1B) and Isaac Pifer (OF/P) and juniors Max Baker (C) and Trevor Beerman (P/2B).
Last season, Ilich batted .432 with six triples, seven doubles, 18 RBI and 34 runs and was named first-team all-MSL-Buckeye Division and second-team all-district. Shirley hit .394 with 25 RBI and 10 runs and was second-team all-league and Pifer batted .391 with 15 RBI and 14 runs.
Senior Dalton McKee is another starting pitcher.
Junior Chase Wymer will pitch and will start at third base when Cunningham is pitching or playing in the outfield.
Also on the team are senior Zack Stanley and juniors Nolan Anderson, Alec Barnes, Cody Cowgill, Harrison Kaib and Jared Kotwis.
"We have a lot more senior leadership than we've had the past couple of years and that makes it a lot easier to coach because the kids know exactly what I want them to do," Bartos said. "Our offense is going to be very strong and our pitching has come a long way."
The Indians are looking to challenge for the MSL-Buckeye title after going 9-5 and placing second last season, behind Bloom-Carroll (13-1).
Canal Winchester opened the Division I district tournament a year ago with a 14-1, six-inning win over Northland before losing to third-seeded Gahanna 4-2 in the second round.
"The MSL will be a dogfight between Bloom-Carroll and us and maybe Logan Elm," Bartos said. "We're playing plenty of Division I teams during our non-league schedule to get ourselves prepared for the tournament."
Six starters return for softball team
The softball team opens Saturday, March 30, with games against host Licking Valley and Olmsted Falls.
The Indians, who finished 18-11 overall last season, return six starters in seniors Hannah Barnhart (OF), Alyxis Moore (C) and Kaleigh Whitlatch (2B/SS) and sophomores Jenna Carlisle (OF), Taylor Griffin (1B/P) and Raven Hamilton (OF).
Last year, Whitlatch batted .391 with three home runs, 18 RBI and 25 runs and was first-team all-MSL-Buckeye. Hamilton hit .282 with eight RBI and 18 runs and was second-team all-league.
Sophomore Carly Saberito, who pitched the first two innings of each of the Indians' Division I tournament games last year, takes over for 2012 graduate and three-year starter Lauren Ardnt in the circle.
Sophomore Paige Hughes and freshman Callie Coswell are vying for the starting job at second base or shortstop, depending on where Whitlatch plays.
Freshman Bailee Faulkner will start at third base and sophomores Rachel Jefferies and Kasey Wentzel will serve as backup infielders.
"We're counting on our three seniors to lead the way because the rest of our girls are sophomores or freshmen," 13th-year coach Randy Hinton said. "This is the youngest team I've had, but I feel more confident in our bench players this year."
Last season, Canal Winchester went 12-2 in the MSL-Buckeye to place second to Bloom-Carroll (13-1). The Indians split their games against the Bulldogs, winning 1-0 and losing 10-0 in five innings in their league finale.
"Our first goal is to win the MSL, but we'll get real good competition from Bloom-Carroll, Teays Valley and Circleville," Hinton said. "I think we have the experience and athleticism needed to win it, so we just need to stay focused and consistent."
Canal Winchester was seeded 12th for the district tournament a year ago and beat Hilliard Darby 2-1, Worthington Kilbourne 2-1 and sixth-seeded Marysville 5-0 in a semifinal before losing to third-seeded Pickerington Central 4-0 in a final.