When asked about a preseason prediction, Hilliard Darby High School baseball coach Chris Fugitt expected the OCC-Ohio Division to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in the OCC.

When asked about a preseason prediction, Hilliard Darby High School baseball coach Chris Fugitt expected the OCC-Ohio Division to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in the OCC.

Now that three teams from the division, including the Panthers, will be playing for a Division I regional championship beginning today at Dublin Coffman, it might be difficult to argue that belief.

Darby will face league-rival Gahanna at 2 p.m. in the first regional semifinal. At 5 p.m., Newark of the OCC-Ohio will play West Chester Lakota West in the second semifinal.

The winners will meet at 2 p.m. Friday for a trip to the state tournament, which begins June 5 at Cooper Stadium.

"We're playing a very, very good Gahanna team," said Fugitt, whose team improved to 25-4 overall after a 5-2 win over fifth-seeded Zanesville on May 15 in a district final. "How about our league winning three district championships? I don't know if that's ever happened before."

The 10th-seeded Lions beat 12th-seeded Pickerington Central 18-13 on May 14 in a district final to improve to 20-9.

Gahanna always has been a nasty opponent during the regular season. In 2006, Gahanna swept the league series to keep the Panthers from earning a share of the league championship. The teams split two meetings this season, with Darby winning 5-2 on April 14 and the Lions taking the final contest 8-1 on April 30, which spoiled the Panthers' perfect record.

Darby earned its second league championship in a row at 9-1 ahead of Gahanna (7-3), Groveport (6-4), Newark (5-5), Lancaster (2-8) and Westland (1-9).

"We beat them the first time so we know we've got a shot at beating them," said Matt Frey, who didn't allow a run in three innings of relief against Zanesville. "They gave us a butt-whipping the second time, but we know we can beat them. We know they have good pitching and they're an all-around good team. But I think we're the same way."

The Lions likely will have to face pitcher Lance Kingrey, a Miami recruit who is 7-0 with a 0.42 ERA in 50 innings.

The senior last pitched May 13 when he went six innings in a 5-3 win over Dublin Jerome, a team that defeated the Panthers 4-1 in last year's regional semifinal.

Fugitt has a number of arms to pick from, including Aaron Kalnasy (4-2, 2.75 ERA), Jon Long (5-1, 2.33 ERA), Frey (5-0, 1.53 ERA), Andrew Crawford (4-1, 3.50 ERA) and reliever Zach Brooks, who has four saves with a 1.83 ERA.

"Last year, we won the district and we ended up losing in the regional semifinal so we'd really like to surpass that this year and move on to the regional final and so forth," said Kingrey, who is batting a team-best .379 with 11 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 27 RBI.

Based on records, Lakota West at 24-1 overall and ranked first in the state enters the regional as the favorite.

Newark at 16-11 overall knocked off Dublin Scioto 6-0 on May 14 to win a district championship. Darby won both regular-season meet-ings with the Wildcats by wide margins.

"We had some experience of playing in the regional last year and, hopefully, we can use that," Fugitt said.

"It comes down to the pitchers throwing strikes and guys making routine plays and putting the ball in play. It sounds simple when you do it like that."