After four consecutive losing seasons, the Delaware Hayes High School softball team hopes it turned the corner last year when it finished 15-12.

After four consecutive losing seasons, the Delaware Hayes High School softball team hopes it turned the corner last year when it finished 15-12.

With six starters returning and two highly touted newcomers, the Pacers have toughened their schedule in hopes of making a run in the Division I district tournament. Last year, they lost to Westerville North 5-1 in the second round.

The Pacers last won a district title in 2005, when they finished 23-8 and were led by the battery of pitcher Amanda Smith and catcher Devin Sponseller. Those two have joined the staff of coach Mark Thomas and assistant Jordan Blackburn.

Smith, a 2005 graduate, and Sponseller, a 2006 graduate, have young protgs to work with in the freshman battery of pitcher Mikayla Cooper and catcher Kaitlyn Woerner.

"Mikayla Cooper is one the most pure softball players we've ever had come in as a freshman at Hayes," said Thomas, whose team opens Tuesday, March 29, at Danville. "She can play any position on the field and played for a U-16 travel team at 14 years old last summer. Her team played in a national tournament in Illinois and she caught the eyes of Northwestern, Oklahoma and Florida State. She got a personal invitation to Oklahoma's camp and her mom drove her 17 hours there and she did very well."

Thomas has been impressed with Cooper's demeanor as well.

"She's level-headed and knows the game," he said. "She plays within herself and obviously has experience with the new (pitching) distance at 43 feet. She has very good control on multiple pitches. It's that accuracy with all pitches that is so impressive at her age."

Woerner is in her third year as a catcher, and she has worked with Cooper during that time.

"Woerner is a very good catcher who is only going to get better," Thomas said. "She also has a real good (bat)."

Thomas plans to hit Woerner third and Cooper fourth.

The returning starters are seniors Cindy Bowman (SS), Tia Hinten (P/1B), Kalene Schmidt (CF) and Carly Shaw (LF), junior Amber Arthur (RF) and sophomore Alaina Manor (3B).

Schmidt was first-team all-OCC-Capital Division and second-team all-district last season. She led the team in batting average (.463), runs (27), stolen bases (24) and walks (25), and had 15 RBI from the leadoff spot. Bowman (.303 with 18 runs, 15 RBI) was special mention all-league and Shaw (.247, 8 runs, 13 RBI) was honorable mention.

Hinten was second-team all-league after going 9-5 with a 1.33 ERA in OCC-Capital games. She was 14-8 overall with a 2.14 ERA.

"The four returning seniors were all-OCC performers, and they are great leaders," Thomas said. "Bowman and Schmidt were captains last year and this year and they are working hard to make sure we have a big season. The seniors know we've had opportunities to do some things in the league and in the tournament during the past three years only to watch things fall through. They're taking it upon themselves to get the job done this season."

Delaware finished third at 9-5 in league play last year, behind champion Hilliard Bradley (13-1) and Mount Vernon (11-3) and ahead of New Albany (6-8), Big Walnut (6-8), Olentangy Orange (6-8), Watkins Memorial (4-10) and Franklin Heights (1-13).

Also returning are junior Cassy Castle (OF) and sophomore Phoebe Lewis (P). Freshman Rebecca Hire is expected to start at second base. Rounding out the roster is freshman Lindsey Blair (1B).

•Flexibility and experience should be factors for the baseball team in its quest to improve on last year, when it posted its first losing season since 2005.

Delaware finished 12-13 overall after losing to Pickerington North 12-2 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.

The Pacers, who lost six of their final eight games, went 6-7 in the OCC-Capital to finish sixth behind champion Mount Vernon (13-1), New Albany (9-5), Orange (9-5), Watkins Memorial (9-5) and Bradley (7-6) and ahead of Big Walnut (2-12) and Franklin Heights (0-14) followed.

The Pacers lost just two seniors, but one player moved out of the school district and two others are not back with the team.

However, the team returns 11 players with experience, including 10 letterwinners and six starters.

Leading the list is a two-time first-team all-district pick in junior Jacob Bosiokovic, who played catcher as a freshman and shortstop as a sophomore. This season, coach Mike Yinger anticipates Bosiokovic being the team's top pitcher.

Junior Tyler Miller is expected to be the No. 2 pitcher, with senior Joe Weirtz and junior Jake Wright also expected to see starts on the mound. Senior Nick Ratliff, junior Aaron Heber and sophomore Justin Vanhoesen also will pitch.

"(Bosiokovic) has the stuff to be our No. 1, and I'm hoping he'll have that bulldog mentality and self confidence to get the job done," said Yinger, whose team opens Monday, March 28, at Marion Harding. "We will have some pretty good pitching depth, with Tyler Miller, Jake Wright and Joe Weirtz all having very capable arms as well."

Bosiokovic, who batted .513 with 21 RBI last season and also was first-team all-league, will play shortstop when not pitching. Ratliff, who was honorable mention all-league after going 7-1 with a 2.74 ERA, also will play first base and be a designated hitter.

Joining Ratliff and Weirtz in the senior class are Alex Boger (C) and Kyle Winston (OF).

When not pitching, Miller will fill in on the infield and Wright will play the outfield.

Junior Kenton Ulmer will be in the outfield and Heber will see time at first base. Vanhoesen will play second base and sophomore Alex Rafeld will be a catcher and second baseman.

Newcomers include juniors Tyler Kidd (1B), Ethan Nichol (OF) and Austin Terry (OF) and freshmen Greg Suber (3B) and Connor Ulmer (IF).

Suber is expected to be a starter.

"With Miller having to move around to fill gaps in the infield depending on who we pitch that day, we want to find an everyday third baseman," Yinger said. "We think Suber gives us that opportunity.

"Last year a lot of our key players were freshmen and sophomores and I think the experience will pay off this year," Yinger said. "We put the ball in play pretty well and move around the bases pretty well. I think our defense is much stronger, our pitching is much improved and our knowledge of the game is tons better."