Canal Winchester High School baseball coach Jay Bartos initially was worried about his team competing in the OCC-Cardinal Division for the first time this season, considering that the Indians had struggled against OCC opponents in past seasons.
His fears were quelled, however, when Canal Winchester tied Pickerington North at 2 in a scrimmage March 21.
The Indians were scheduled to open March 31 against Lancaster.
"When we played OCC teams in the past, we normally would be competitive for about four or five innings and then fold badly and end up getting run-ruled," said Bartos, whose team played Olentangy Orange on April 1. "This year, we have a lot of confidence heading into our first season as an OCC team because we just played one of the top OCC teams in Pickerington North and we did very well against them. After that performance, our guys realize that we cannot only play with the teams in our league, but we can beat them."
Last season, Canal Winchester finished 14-12 overall and placed second (9-5) in the MSL-Buckeye behind Bloom-Carroll (13-1).
Dublin Jerome won the OCC-Cardinal championship last year, going 12-2 to finish ahead of Hilliard Darby (11-3), Westerville South (8-6), Westerville North (7-7), Dublin Scioto (5-8), Hilliard Bradley (5-9), Westerville Central (4-9) and Worthington Kilbourne (3-11).
Kilbourne now resides in the OCC-Capital.
Canal Winchester, which begins OCC-Cardinal play Monday, April 7, at home against Westerville South, has returned six players who saw significant playing time a year ago in seniors Max Baker (C/P), Trevor Beerman (P/2B), Cody Cowgill (2B), Jared Kotwis (3B/P) and Chase Wymer (3B/P) and junior Troy Fleming (RF/P).
Baker went 5-1 on the mound and batted .281 with 21 runs and was named honorable mention all-district and second-team all-MSL-Buckeye.
Beerman hit .328 with 12 RBI and 22 runs and was honorable mention all-league.
Rounding out the roster are senior Harrison Kaib (P/1B), juniors Brady Balsimo (P/1B/OF), Collin Sanders (P/2B), Sam Stanley (P/3B), Ray Tiell (OF/1B/DH) and Jevin Williams (CF), sophomores Colin Sotlar (OF/C) and Evan Young (P/SS) and freshmen Austin Trace (P/SS/C) and Luke Williamson (P/OF).
"Our pitching and defense are our strengths," said Bartos, whose team went 6-4 in one-run games last season. "Of our 16 players, 12 of them pitch, so we have a lot of depth there. We have a lot of the same guys playing defense and they are better this season now that they have an extra year of experience under their belts."
Canal Winchester is in its third season in Division I. The Indians lost to Lancaster 9-2 in the first round of the district tournament last season.
"We have the ability to compete with the better Division I teams in our area," Bartos said. "We just have to learn how to bounce back quickly when we face some adversity in a game."
Softball team young but experienced
The softball team is loaded with experience, as it features seven returning starters in juniors Jenna Carlisle (RF), Carly Favorito (P), Taylor Griffin (1B/P), Raven Hamilton (CF) and Paige Hughes (designated player/OF) and sophomores Callie Caswell (2B) and Bailee Faulkner (C/3B).
Last season, Hamilton batted .451 with three home runs, 22 RBI and 23 runs and was second-team all-MSL-Buckeye.
Favorito, who went 13-10 in the circle with a 2.20 ERA, 118 strikeouts and 33 walks in 153 innings, and Griffin, who batted .361 with six doubles, 13 RBI and 15 runs, both made honorable mention all-league.
Faulkner hit .362 with two home runs, six doubles, 17 RBI and 17 runs.
Rounding out the roster are senior Kaylee Lahr (utility), juniors Rachel Jeffries (SS) and Kasey Wentzel (3B/C), sophomores Chaya Duncan (OF) and Katie Hinkle (P) and freshman Mackenzie Hamilton (SS).
Canal Winchester, which opened March 31 at home against New Albany, finished 17-11 overall last season and went 8-6 in the MSL-Buckeye to place third behind Bloom-Carroll (13-1) and Teays Valley (12-2).
"We have only one senior so we're younger than normal, but we're actually more experienced than last year because our juniors have been playing varsity softball since they were freshmen," coach Randy Hinton said.
"We're going to be able to hit for more power this season. We also have a little more speed and I've challenged the girls to use it to score more runs."
The Indians will play their first OCC-Cardinal game Monday, April 7, at home against Westerville South.
Kilbourne (13-1) won the league last season, finishing ahead of Westerville Central (11-3), Westerville South (10-4), Westerville North (8-6), Bradley (6-7), Jerome (4-9), Darby (3-11) and Scioto (0-14).
Kilbourne has moved to the OCC-Capital.
"There's a lot of good teams in our division, like Westerville Central and Hilliard Darby, but I think we can be competitive in the OCC," Hinton said.
"We're young, but we'd still like to try to win our league and do better in the tournament this year."