First-year Gahanna Christian Academy baseball coach Robert Balawajder has taken over a team looking to rebound from a disappointing season.
The Eagles finished 6-10 overall last year, losing to Worthington Christian 15-0 in five innings in the first round of the Division IV district tournament.
Gahanna Christian opened this season by losing at Morral Ridgedale 9-1 on March 31 and at Mount Gilead 15-4 in five innings April 1.
The Eagles were swept by host Millersport in a doubleheader April 5, losing 7-6 and 15-2 in five innings. Their MOCAL opener at Tree of Life was postponed April 7 because of bad weather and rescheduled for April 8.
"(The players) are learning a lot," Balawajder said. "I like the efforts, I like the attitudes. It's just trying to mold them, teach them the fundamentals, to get them to think ahead, think of the situations. They're willing, they're able and they're trying to push themselves, so I appreciate the effort so far."
Balawajder also is the school's athletics director. He replaced Scott Jemson, who coached the team for 14 seasons.
Junior Eddie Dilts (P/1B/SS) leads the pitching staff.
"Our ace (Dilts) pitched well enough to keep us in the game (against Ridgedale), but we made (four) errors and we didn't hit the ball," Balawajder said. "We just couldn't keep up with them."
Last season, Dilts had a team-best .596 batting average and 29 RBI and was second-team all-district and all-league. He also had a 4.73 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 17 walks in 40 innings.
Also back is junior leadoff batter and center fielder Anthony Barnes, who last season batted .435 with two home runs and 11 RBI and was second-team all-district and all-league.
Junior Charlie Lawson (3B) batted .400 last season. Other returnees are seniors Connor Dyckes (SS/P) and Patrick Mercer (RF), junior Steven Payne (2B/C) and sophomores Jaylon Fields (P/OF/2B) and Jacob Perkins (1B/P/OF).
Dyckes (SS/P) batted .373 last season and Perkins batted .333.
Junior Sam Sibert (LF) returns after playing as a freshman.
Other players are senior Logan Keseg (RF/1B) and freshmen Aaron Cline (2B), Aaron Mertz (C/INF) and Dylan Sino (2B/P).
Dilts and Dyckes are captains.
Gahanna Christian tied Madison Christian for fifth in the MOCAL last season at 1-9, behind co-champions Fairfield Christian and Tree of Life (9-1).
Fairfield Christian and Grove City Christian have joined the MSL-Cardinal Division.
Balawajder expects Tree of Life and Granville Christian to be the teams to beat in the league.
Balawajder is a 2003 graduate of Evangel Christian Academy, which is now Gahanna Christian, and a 2007 graduate of Otterbein University. He played baseball all four years in high school and three at Otterbein, and was an assistant baseball coach at Harvest Prep for one season.
"We've been practicing a lot and I have been reviewing a lot of film," Balawajder said. "We're trying to get better (by) challenging ourselves and (pushing) ourselves, and be respectable."
Boys track team features key returnees
The boys track and field team returns several athletes who helped the Eagles finish eighth (30 points) in the Division III, district 1 meet last season behind champion Columbus Academy (130).
"We're small this year and we're going to have some challenges, but it will be fun and we'll have a good time this year," said Jeremy Reeves, who is in his third season of sharing coaching duties with his wife, Erika. "As far as winning meets, it's going to be hard to pull points because we don't really have enough (athletes) to fill everything, but we're going to be OK with what we have."
The top returnees are seniors Connor Maclellan (distance) and Joseph Schoen (distance) and junior Michael Ramsey (jumps, middle distance). They were part of the fifth-place 3,200-meter relay (9 minutes, 4.13 seconds) last year at district.
Schoen also was sixth in the 3,200 (10:55.7) at district.
Also back are seniors Zack Buckles (distance), Jared Downing (middle distance) and Caleb Haugen (hurdles), juniors Jared Haugen (hurdles) and Sibert (sprints, high jump) and sophomores Jeriah Cline (sprints) and Christopher Schoen (distance).
Gahanna Christian opened April 1 by finishing fourth (20) in a five-team meet, behind host Columbus Academy (163), Worthington Christian (77) and Horizon Science (33) and ahead of Patriot Prep (6).
The Eagles are looking to replace 2013 graduate Anthony Hebron, who finished eighth in the high jump (6 feet) and ninth in the long jump (18-10 1/4) at regional.
Gahanna Christian (183) won the MOCAL meet last year ahead of runner-up Fairfield Christian (119), which has moved to the MSL-Cardinal along with Grove City Christian.
The girls program consists of sophomore Yeilyn Rodriguez (sprints, hurdles), a transfer from Upper Arlington, and freshman Gana Lopez (sprints).
"Gana is going to stand out for us this year," Jeremy Reeves said.
On April 1, the girls tied Horizon Science for fourth (16) behind Academy (147), Worthington Christian (78) and Patriot Prep (28).
Last season, the Eagles finished fifth (53) in the MOCAL meet behind champion Fairfield Christian (154).
Softball not offered this spring
Balawajder said softball will not be offered this spring because of a lack of players.
The girls basketball season also was canceled for the same reason.
Balawajder expects both sports to resume next school year.