Senior Jake Mercer is in his third season starting at catcher for the Columbus Academy baseball team. He's in his second season as a team leader.

Senior Jake Mercer is in his third season starting at catcher for the Columbus Academy baseball team. He's in his second season as a team leader.

"Last year, we had one senior and some of the juniors stepped up to lead the team," he said. "This feels like my second senior season. I know we're capable leaders."

Academy finished 8-13-1 last season after losing to Liberty Union 9-4 in the first round of the Division III district tournament. Academy lost one graduate, but returns a seven-player senior class that includes Mercer, Brian Black (P/1B), Matt Coffin (OF), Jordan Rhyne (P), Xander Skoulis (1B/OF/P) Byron Viets (2B/SS/C) and Derek Wolf (2B/SS).

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said second-year coach Jim Collis, whose team opens Monday at Fairbanks. "We have some decent talent coming back, and from the leadership standpoint we're even in better shape than we were a year ago. That should help the young kids in the program and be a nice mix with the nucleus we have."

Leading that nucleus is Black, who batted a team-high .390 with 13 RBI and pitched 30 innings with a 4.67 ERA, striking out 26 and walking 18.

Sophomore Nick Sergakis hit .388 and had a team-high 16 RBI and two home runs. He also emerged as the ace, pitching a team-high 44 2/3 innings, striking out 47 and walking 20 with a 2.19 ERA.

"I've been catching Brian Black for four years and he's awesome," Mercer said. "When he's on, I definitely wouldn't want to face him. Nick was a freshman last year and I couldn't have expected anymore from him.

"I'm looking forward to those guys keeping opponents off the base paths, which helps out the catcher. They're going to have a great year and I'm looking forward to it."

According to Collis, pitching is Academy's area of strength. He expects Rhyne to join Black and Sergakis at the front of the rotation.

"We've got three kids that can throw," Collis said. "The pitching could carry us a bit."

Academy hit .303 as a team andaveraged 5.9 runs per game last season as the Vikings finished 4-10 in the MSL-Ohio Division as Heath was first at 11-3 ahead of Licking Valley and Newark Catholic at 10-4.

"I expect that we should compete for the MSL-Ohio," Mercer said. "We've got a veteran team and everyone has been there before. We've been close the past two years to where we need to be. We just haven't gotten over the hump to perform to the best of our ability."

From last Monday to Saturday, Academy was at Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville, where the Vikings plan to practice three times a day or twice a day with a scrimmage.

"We have to come out the blocks strong," Collis said. "A year's experience with having a new coach goes a long way. They know what to expect from me and vice versa. We have to get off to a fast start and we've challenged them as a group. This is their opportunity to turn around the baseball program here."