Experience and familiarity should play a major role this season for the Delaware Hayes High School softball team.

Experience and familiarity should play a major role this season for the Delaware Hayes High School softball team.

With seven starters and 10 letterwinners returning, the Pacers look to improve on last season when they finished 7-12 overall and 5-7 in the OCC-Capital Division.

Another key could be the amount of time the Pacers and second-year coach Mark Thomas have spent together since last season. A year ago, Thomas was the junior varsity coach for the girls basketball team and assisted with the varsity team, which played into March before finishing 22-1.

"It's been a lot smoother than last season," said Thomas, who did not coach basketball this school year. "I've been able to spend a lot more time preparing for this season.

"Plus, the new hitting facility has been fabulous for us. We get more work in now. We've swung the bats more in the past two weeks than we did all of last winter."

Returning as starters are seniors Kayleigh Huck and Abby Steele, juniors Cindy Bowman, Abby Dodge and Kalene Schmidt and sophomore Amber Arthur.

Steele (C), Schmidt (CF), Arthur (RF) and Dodge (designated player) appear to be returning to their same positions. Bowman is moving from second base to shortstop and Huck is moving from shortstop to first base.

"Bowman covers a little more ground at short than Huck because of her lateral movement," Thomas said. "So we were originally going to move Huck to third base, but then we looked around and found out we needed a good first baseman.

"Huck has a great glove and arm, but we needed her more at first base."

Huck, who has signed to play at Glenville State College in Glenville, W.Va., led the team in hitting (.423) and had 12 runs and 17 RBI last season. Bowman batted .390 with 14 stolen bases and Steele (.370, 18 RBI), Schmidt (.358, 12 walks), Dodge (.333) and Arthur (.261) also had fine seasons.

Expected to take over other starting positions are senior Emi Lewis (2B), junior Carly Shaw (LF) and freshman Alaina Manor (3B).

"What I like about our defense is that no matter who is pitching, the defense will remain the same," Thomas said. "I'm not saying that we won't have a different lineup at any point, but I don't see us changing based on who pitches."

Junior Tia Hinten was the team's No. 2 pitcher last year, but has moved past senior Kimmie Haller to begin this season.

"Kimmie had a winter job and also had an injured left (non-throwing) shoulder," Thomas said. "Tia worked hard all winter with her pitching coach developing a few new pitches and she's hitting her spots with them right now. Last year she had only a fastball and change-up. She's also in the process of lengthening her stride and has gained 3-to-5 mph on her fastball."

Rounding out the roster are senior Andrea Salyer (OF) and freshman Phoebe Lewis (P).

The Pacers finished fourth in the OCC-Capital last season behind Big Walnut (11-1), Mount Vernon (10-2) and Watkins Memorial (7-5) and ahead of Franklin Heights (4-8), New Albany (3-9) and Olentangy Orange (2-10).

This season, Hilliard Bradley joins the league and brings a second-team all-Ohio pitcher with it. Kellie Roudabush led Hilliard Darby to a Division I state semifinal last season before losing to eventual state champion Elyria 2-0.

"That will obviously make this an even more difficult OCC division," Thomas said. "I know Mount Vernon will be tough, Big Walnut lost a little but should also be tough and I expect Orange to be very much improved as well. I don't see anyone running through the league unbeaten though."

At a glance

•Coach: Mark Thomas, second season

•Opener: Tuesday vs. Olentangy

•Key players: Cindy Bowman, Tia Hinten, Kayleigh Huck, Kalene Schmidt and Abby Steele

SCHEDULE

March 30 vs. Olentangy

March 31 at Reynoldsburg

April 1 vs. Worthington Kilbourne

*April 5 vs. Franklin Heights

*April 7 at Mount Vernon

*April 9 at Watkins Memorial

April 10 at Watterson (doubleheader)

*April 12 vs. Big Walnut

April 13 at Fairbanks

*April 14 at Hilliard Bradley

*April 15 at New Albany

April 17 vs. Olentangy Liberty (doubleheader)

*April 19 vs. Olentangy Orange

*April 21 at Franklin Heights

*April 22 vs. Mount Vernon

April 23 vs. Minerva in Stellar Classic at Ohio State

April 24 vs. Millersport and vs. Kilbourne in Stellar Classic at Ohio State

*April 26 vs. Watkins Memorial

*April 28 at Big Walnut

*April 29 vs. Bradley

May 1 at Berne Union (doubleheader)

*May 3 vs. New Albany

*May 5 at Orange

May 6 vs. Dublin Scioto

*OCC-Capital game