The Big Walnut High School baseball team faces a daunting task in trying to match its accomplishments from last season.
The Golden Eagles broke the program record for victories in a season by going 23-6 overall -- the previous mark was 18, set in 2003 -- and won their first league title since joining the OCC-Capital Division before the 1997-98 school year. In addition, they reached a Division II district final.
"We have pretty high expectations," third-year coach Chris Holly said.
Big Walnut, which opened with a 4-2 loss to Westerville Central on April 2 and a 6-1 win over Shekinah Christian April 4, begins OCC-Capital play Monday, April 8, at home against Olentangy, lost eight players from a year ago to graduation.
"Seven of them were starters," Holly said. "That's seven positions where we'll have new players. Any time you do that, it's going to be tough."
Among the players lost were Grant Beam (CF/P), Tyler Beam (SS/P), Aaron Dattilo (2B) and Aaron Gase (C/P).
Last spring, Grant Beam had a .444 batting average with 34 RBI, 32 runs and seven stolen bases and was named second-team all-state and first-team all-league and all-district.
Gase hit .292 with 28 RBI and 17 runs and was 9-0 with a 2.09 ERA, 62 strikeouts and 21 walks in 57 innings and was honorable mention all-state and first-team all-league and all-district.
Tyler Beam batted .405 with 27 RBI, 28 runs and a team-high 10 stolen bases and was 1-1 with a 3.61 ERA, 18 strikeouts and six walks in 21 1/3 innings and was first-team all-league and all-district, and Dattilo hit .329 with 25 RBI and 26 runs and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league.
Big Walnut returns seniors Drew Dattilo (OF), Cole Harbin (P/SS), Jay Holland (3B) and Max McLean (OF/P) and juniors Jeremy Bok (1B/OF), Logan Boyd (INF), Nick Colopy (OF/INF), Kyle Duncan (C/P) and Joel Windle (OF).
Last season, Harbin was 7-4 with a 2.75 ERA, 29 strikeouts and 12 walks in 63 2/3 innings and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league, and Bok hit .358 with 20 RBI and 19 runs and was honorable mention all-league.
Duncan batted .286 with 13 RBI and 10 runs and was 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA, 21 strikeouts and four walks in 17 innings, and McLean hit .340 with 17 runs and was 2-0 with a 4.13 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 16 walks in 20 1/3 innings.
The roster also includes seniors Alex Clark (OF/C), Brandon Mayer (OF) and Joey Woerner (2B), junior Joe Steller (C), sophomores Brandon Daniels (OF), Garrett Grover (P/OF), Brayden Shepherd (SS) and Matt Tarney (2B) and freshman Nick Moser (OF).
Daniels is a transfer from Olentangy Orange.
"They know they're replacing a very good senior class," Holly said of his players. "We're counting on them to step up."
Last season, Big Walnut went 12-2 in the OCC-Capital, finishing ahead of Orange (11-3), New Albany (10-4), Watkins Memorial (8-5), Delaware Hayes (6-8), Mount Vernon (5-9), Hilliard Bradley (3-10) and Franklin Heights (0-14).
The league title was Big Walnut's first since 1973, when it won the now-defunct Mid-Ohio Conference.
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Olentangy.
"We've got a lot of great teams in our league," Holly said. "We've got a lot of work to do if we want to repeat (as league champions)."
Big Walnut was seeded third in the district tournament a year ago and, after a first-round bye, defeated Caledonia River Valley 8-0 in the second round and Lakewood 2-1 in a district semifinal before losing to top-seeded DeSales 2-1 in a district final.
DeSales went on to win its second consecutive state title.
In their opener against Westerville Central, the Golden Eagles were up 2-1 in the middle of the fifth inning before allowing two runs in the bottom of the fifth and another run in the sixth.
"We had a great pitching performance by Cole," Holly said. "We just had a couple of errors in places. People are going to have to get used to playing their role. We're young, age-wise and varsity experience-wise."
Softball team returns experienced lineup
Seventh-year softball coach Jeff Hatfield likes the fact that his team has returned 10 letterwinners, but he knows that doesn't guarantee success.
"There are still things we need to improve on," he said. "We gave up one big inning in quite a few games last year. Defensively, I'm looking for us to be more solid."
Big Walnut, which opened with a 12-1, five-inning win over Whetstone on April 3 and a 12-2 win over DeSales April 4, finished 18-11 overall last season, marking its third-highest win total in the past eight seasons, behind 2008 (20-7) and 2009 (20-8).
Seeded eighth in the Division II district tournament, the Golden Eagles defeated Walnut Ridge 25-0 in five innings in the first round and Sparta Highland 5-4 in the second round before losing to third-seeded Licking Valley 10-5 in a district semifinal.
Big Walnut went 7-7 in the OCC-Capital to tie Bradley and New Albany for fourth, behind co-champions Dela-ware (12-2) and Orange (12-2) as well as Mount Vernon (9-5) and ahead of Franklin Heights (2-12) and Watkins Memorial (0-14).
"The league is going to be very tough," Hatfield said. "Delaware returns quite a bit. So does Orange. New Albany could be up there, too."
The Golden Eagles return seniors Stephanie Adkins (INF), Krysten Chadwick (1B/C) and Allie Walker (P) and juniors Hayley Apple (3B), Shelbie Borchers (SS), Katelynn Cheadle (CF), Brooke Hatfield (RF), Shaye Kuhlman (LF), Sara Petty (OF) and Leah Shaw (2B).
Walker went 9-3 with a 3.05 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 108 innings and batted .276 last spring and was special mention all-league. Chadwick hit .351 with a team-high 25 RBI, 21 runs and a team-high four home runs and was honorable mention all-league.
Apple (.286, 18 RBI, 17 runs), Borchers (.295, 7 RBI, 21 runs), Cheadle (.387, 21 RBI, 22 runs, 5 stolen bases), Hatfield (.352, 15 RBI, 13 runs), Kuhlman (.230, 15 RBI, 12 runs) and Shaw (.271, 12 RBI, 17 runs) also were key contributors.
Also on the team is freshman Kate Petty (P).
"We're very athletic," Hatfield said. "We've got good team speed. We've got the depth, the parts and the components to be a really good team. It's just going to be how we come together."
The Golden Eagles lost two players from a year ago to graduation in Emily Petty (P) and Morgan Stephens (C).
"We lost our two best hitters from last year," Hatfield said.
Stephens, who plays at Bluefield College in Virginia, batted .389 with 20 RBI, a team-high 25 runs and a team-high seven stolen bases last year and was second-team all-district and all-league.
Petty hit a team-high .413 with 20 RBI, 23 runs and three home runs and was 9-8 with a 3.81 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 79 innings and was first-team all-league.
Boys tennis team has new coach
The boys tennis team has a new coach in Ryan Balaz, who has taken over for Mike McDonough.
Balaz has coached the girls team the past two seasons and was an assistant coach for the boys team under McDonough last spring. McDonough compiled a 99-40 record during his eight-year tenure.
Under McDonough, the Golden Eagles had a winning record every season and posted at least 11 wins each season except 2009, when they finished 9-7. The team set a program record for victories in a season in 2007, when it finished 15-3, and matched that mark in 2011 by going 15-4.
"My expectations are what Mike's were," Balaz said. "I just want to keep building on what he did."
Last season, the Golden Eagles finished 14-4 overall and were third (44 points, 6-1) in the OCC-Capital, behind New Albany (77, 7-0) and Orange (45, 5-2) and ahead of Delaware (38, 4-3), Bradley (25, 2-5), Watkins Memorial (23, 3-4), Mount Vernon (14, 1-6) and Franklin Heights (2, 0-7).
Big Walnut lost eight players from a year ago to graduation, including six regular starters in Sam Baldauf (second doubles), Nate Fagan (second doubles), Russell McMurry (third singles), Nathan Randall (first singles), Dan Violet (second singles) and Cory Walters (first doubles).
Randall was a three-time district qualifier and was the team's lone Division I district qualifier last year, losing 6-2, 6-3 to Gahanna's Canyon Teague in the first round.
"It's really hard to replace the experience those guys had and the accomplishments they achieved," Balaz said.
Big Walnut returns seniors Thomas Hamann, Jeff Tribble (third singles) and Sean Tribble (first singles), juniors Logan Adams (second singles), Grant Burks (first doubles) and Adam Freeberg (second doubles) and sophomore Isaiah Kolb (first doubles). Juniors Cole Davis, Garrett Jackson and Andrew Nussbaum complete the roster.
The Golden Eagles were 1-1 overall before facing Olentangy in their OCC-Capital opener April 5. They beat Newark 5-0 on April 2 and lost to Thomas Worthington 3-2 on April 3.
"If we can get better every day, then we'll accomplish our goals," Balaz said. "I'm really proud of them so far. They're battling, and if they keep that up, they're going to win more matches than they think they can."