Having lost seven starters from a year ago to graduation, Big Walnut High School softball coach Jeff Hatfield needed players to step up and fill the void this season.

Having lost seven starters from a year ago to graduation, Big Walnut High School softball coach Jeff Hatfield needed players to step up and fill the void this season.

Among those who have answered the call are six sophomores: Hayley Apple (3B), Shelbie Borchers (SS), Katelynn Cheadle (CF), Brooke Hatfield (RF), Shaye Kuhlman (LF) and Leah Shaw (2B).

Each is a starter, but only Apple saw varsity action last season. She was inserted into the lineup when the starting third baseman, 2011 graduate Tayler Nance, was sidelined for eight games with a broken ankle and batted .283 with seven RBI and seven runs.

"At times I have to (remember that) we're starting six kids who are in their first year on varsity," coach Hatfield said. "We lost a lot of seniors from last year and that's put a lot of pressure on (the first-year starters), but we've had good contributions from them. That (sophomore) class was a very successful class in middle school and last year on (junior varsity)."

Through 14 games, Cheadle was batting .370 and was second on the team in RBI (11) and third in runs (11). Shaw also had a .370 batting average and was third on the team in RBI (10) and first in runs (13). Hatfield was batting .304 with eight RBI and five runs.

The other starters are senior catcher Morgan Stephens (.391, 9 RBI, 12 runs), junior first baseman Krysten Chadwick (.317, 15 RBI, 9 runs, 2 home runs), senior pitcher Emily Petty (.455, 7 RBI, 9 runs) and junior pitcher Allie Walker (.250, 1 RBI, 1 run).

Through 14 games in the circle, Petty was 4-5 with a 4.09 ERA and 32 strikeouts and 11 walks in 41 innings, and Walker was 5-0 with a 2.19 ERA and 35 strikeouts and seven walks in 48 innings.

Big Walnut, which is seeking its first winning season since 2009, was 9-7 overall and 2-5 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Watkins Memorial on April 20. The Golden Eagles had lost two games in a row and three of their previous four before playing Watkins Memorial, including league games against Mount Vernon (8-6 on April 16) and Franklin Heights (6-3 on April 18).

"We've been struggling a bit here of late," coach Hatfield said. "Our team batting average has gone down. We have a lot of talent and our team is very athletic - it's probably as athletic a team as I've had in my six years at Big Walnut - but we're making quite a few mental mistakes and we can't seem to avoid that one bad inning."

Against Franklin Heights, Big Walnut scored two runs in the top of the first inning but allowed five in the bottom of the second.

"We need to cut down on giving teams extra outs and avoid that one bad inning, but I believe deep down that we can make noise later in the season," coach Hatfield said.

•Entering the season, boys tennis coach Mike McDonough figured his team would have a difficult time challenging New Albany for the OCC-Capital championship.

A 5-0 loss to New Albany on April 17 solidified his thinking.

"(I learned) nothing (about New Albany) that I didn't already know," McDonough said. "They're just head and shoulders above us and so many other teams. They're one of the best teams around, but I thought our kids battled hard. We were fairly certain what the outcome would be before the match, but our guys competed hard and did their best."

Big Walnut is second in the OCC-Capital at 4-1 and has two league matches remaining before the league tournament May 5 at Olentangy Orange. The Eagles play host to Mount Vernon on Tuesday, April 24, and travel to Franklin Heights on Thursday, April 26.

"We're going to go out and play hard against those teams because we don't want to give up any ground going into the league tournament," McDonough said. "When you have New Albany in your league, second place looks pretty good."

Last season, Big Walnut went 5-2 in the OCC-Capital and finished the league tournament with 39 points to place third, behind New Albany (76) and Orange (52) and ahead of Delaware Hayes (31), Hilliard Bradley (24), Watkins Memorial (22), Franklin Heights (7) and Mount Vernon (6). New Albany has won five consecutive league titles.

Against New Albany, Big Walnut's lineup consisted of senior Nathan Randall at first singles, senior Dan Violet at second singles, senior Russell McMurry at third singles, senior Cory Walters and junior Sean Tribble at first doubles and seniors Sam Baldauf and Nate Fagan at second doubles.

"Our top five are set," McDonough said. "At second doubles, we're pretty much going to rotate Sam and Nate with (junior) Jeff Tribble and (sophomore) Logan Adams.

"We're pleased with the way things are going and the kids appear to be having fun, and that's what you want to see."