With five returning starters and the No. 2 pitcher back from last season, Mark Thomas is beginning his first season as coach of the Delaware Hayes High School softball team with plenty of optimism.

With five returning starters and the No. 2 pitcher back from last season, Mark Thomas is beginning his first season as coach of the Delaware Hayes High School softball team with plenty of optimism.

"The girls are very upbeat and ready to get the season started," said Thomas, whose team will open Monday at home against Thomas Worthington. "I'm very excited as well. I'm pumped and floating on cloud nine right now. The girls have been eager to learn new drills, there's been no bickering or complaining and we're one big family right now."

Thomas replaced Cari Walker, who guided the Pacers to a 10-14 record in her lone season. The Pacers went 4-6 to tie Pickerington North and Central Crossing for third in the OCC-Central Division behind Marysville (10-0) and Thomas (6-4) and ahead of Westerville Central (2-8).

Delaware now is in the OCC-Capital with Big Walnut, Franklin Heights, Mount Vernon, New Albany, Olentangy Orange and Watkins Memorial. The Pacers, who will play host Wednesday to Fairbanks, will open league play Friday at Franklin Heights.

The five returning starters are seniors Jen Crozier and Paige Hamon, junior Kayleigh Huck and sophomores Cindy Bowman and Kalene Schmidt.

Huck led the team in nearly every statistical category, hitting .373 with 17 runs, 17 RBI, four home runs, 10 doubles and seven stolen bases. She had just seven strikeouts in 75 official at-bats and slugged .693.

Huck played shortstop last season and was battling Bowman for the spot this preseason. Bowman started at second base a year ago. Hamon split time between first base and third base last season, but is expected to start at first.

Crozier will move from center field to left field this season. Schmidt is a left-handed hitter who batted .311 with 11 runs and five stole bases. She will move from right field to center.

"(Schmidt, Bowman, Huck and Hamon) will also be key to the offense," Thomas said. "Schmidt and Bowman have speed and will be key for us at the top. Kalene is a very good slap-hitter. Huck can hit for power and average and Hamon has some power as well."

Delaware must replace its battery, as junior Kimmi Haller takes over the top pitcher. Junior Abby Steele is expected to start at catcher. Hamon, sophomore Caroline Welker and senior Kree Blakeman also will pitch. Haller and Steele are among five non-starting letterwinners returning.

"Haller will be our No. 1 pitcher," Thomas said. "She has five or six pitches with good movement, but is a pretty much a junkball pitcher. If we can get four or five innings, then use the others to mix things up, we'll be in good shape. I'd like to keep Hamon at first as much as possible because that does make our defense better."

Other letterwinners back are seniors Lindsay Fowler and Taylor Krinn and junior Andrea Salyer. Fowler and junior Emi Lewis are battling at second base. Salyer and freshman Amber Arthur are vying to start in right field.

"Our offense and defense will have to play well in unison to help our pitching out," Thomas said. "We'll be very quick and aggressive on the base paths and our goal is to score four runs per game. If we do that, we should be in most games. Our infield has a down-and-dirty mentality that nothing will get by them. If we use those things and teach the pitchers to keep the ball low and throw a lot of groundouts, we'll be in good shape."

At a glance

•Coach: Mark Thomas, first season

•Opener: Monday vs. Thomas Worthington

•Key players: Cindy Bowman, Kimmi Haller, Paige Hamon, Kayleigh Huck and Kalene Schmidt