Chris Fugitt has coached the Hilliard Darby High School baseball team for 16 seasons, but he has never had a senior class as large as this one.
The Panthers have 13 seniors, many of whom were key contributors on last year's team that finished 14-14 overall after losing to 11th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley 7-4 in the second round of the Division I district tournament. They defeated Lancaster 10-5 in the opening round.
"This is by far the biggest senior class I have had here," said Fugitt, whose team defeated Davidson 5-3 on March 30 in the opener. "We have a lot of experience, and that's definitely a plus with the weather keeping us inside. But everyone is in the same situation in that regard."
The Panthers finished second (10-4) in the OCC-Central Division last year, behind Thomas Worthington (11-3) and ahead of Upper Arlington and Worthington Kilbourne (8-6), Davidson and Dublin Coffman (7-7) and Central Crossing and Westland (2-11).
Darby has moved to the OCC-Cardinal, joining Bradley, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Westerville Central, Westerville North, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne.
Its league opener is Monday, April 8, at North.
Leading the returnees is senior Chase Longwell, who will anchor the pitching staff. Last season, the first-team all-league selection was 7-2 with a 2.04 ERA in 58 1/3 innings, allowing 46 hits with 28 strikeouts and 30 walks.
Also back on the mound are juniors Nate Green (0-2, 14 innings, 12 strikeouts, 9 walks, 5.00 ERA) and Eric Norton (1-3, 24 1/3 innings, 12 strikeouts, 5 walks, 4.32 ERA).
Senior infielder Jake Chetock (second-team all-league) hit .352 last season with 22 runs, 17 RBI, nine doubles and 11 stolen bases.
Senior Stephan Hernon (C/INF/P, first-team all-league) batted .368 with five doubles, two triples, 17 runs, 21 RBI and four steals.
Senior outfielder and Valparaiso-signee Chris Ramsey (second-team all-district and all-league) hit .352 with 24 runs, 10 doubles, 11 RBI and five steals.
Other top returning hitters include senior first baseman/pitcher Tyler Elavsky (.333, 9 runs, 8 RBI), Green (.313, 9 runs, 21 RBI, 4 doubles) and senior infielder Connor Holdren (.296, 16 runs, 14 RBI, 4 doubles).
Rounding out the senior class are Bradley Bowman (P/1B), Tyler Green (OF/P), Dylan Salyers (OF/C), Jacob Schultz (P), Devon Tufts (OF), Sam Valenti (OF) and Hayden VanKirk (OF/P).
Other players are juniors Reid Hollinger (P/1B), Jimmy Leahy (OF), Hunter McSweeney (INF/OF), Kyle Rogers (INF/OF) and John Wells (P/INF/OF).
"I think we need consistency in our approach every day in practice and in how we perform in games," Fugitt said. "Baseball is a game full of failures and that's something we have to overcome. We have to be able to react well when we strike out or if we give up a hit or a run. We have to handle that and move on."
Davidson looking for leadership
Davidson returns four starters from a team that finished 15-12 last year after losing to top-ranked Grove City 12-6 in a Division I district final.
"We're still trying to find positive senior leadership because we have a lot of guys who were role players last season and need to take more of a leadership role," said coach Jim Dougherty, who is in his 32nd season. "This is one of the groups that I would have liked to have seen get outside more to work, but the weather didn't allow for that very much."
The returning starters are seniors Jacob Chrysler (SS/P), Kenyon Clevenger (OF), Chris Keck (2B) and Nick Wright (1B). Chrysler was first-team all-league a year ago, batting .340 with 19 runs and 24 RBI.
Junior pitcher Luke Smith was 2-3 last season.
Junior Nick Stull will start at catcher with junior J.B. Miles at third base. Senior Scottie Munson will be in right field with senior Coty Maple and junior Nick Iske vying for the left-field spot.
"I think we have a chance to be decent defensively," Dougherty said. "We have decent pitching depth and a little bit of speed."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Ryan Bremer (INF), Chuckie Campbell (3B/P), Collin Dickey (OF), Ryan Dixon (3B/P), Bryan Gorcoff (1B) and Brad Vance (OF) and juniors Travis Brown (P/OF), Robbie Gilliand (P/OF) and Reed Harster (OF).
"It's a matter of getting live reps outside," Dougherty said. "I think our pitchers are ahead of the hitters right now."
Davidson, which lost to Grove City 10-6 on April 1, begins OCC-Central play Monday, April 8, at Coffman.
After a first-round bye in last year's district tournament, the Wildcats defeated eighth-seeded Zanesville 8-1 in eight innings and Tri-Valley 2-1 in a semifinal.
Bradley features 'coachable' group
Bradley returns four starters from last year's team that finished 9-15 overall after losing to Kilbourne 6-1 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
The Jaguars finished seventh (3-10) in the OCC-Capital behind Big Walnut (12-2), Olentangy Orange (11-3), New Albany (10-4), Watkins Memorial (8-5), Delaware (6-8) and Mount Vernon (5-9) and ahead of Franklin Heights (0-14).
Bradley is now in the OCC-Cardinal and begins league play Monday, April 8, at Jerome.
"This group of guys has come together well," fourth-year coach Matt Gilkerson said. "They are hardworking and very coachable. I'm really excited about the year and I think coaching them will be a lot of fun."
The returning starters are seniors Reilly Butz (OF/P; 0-0, 11.14 ERA, 12 1/3 innings, 11 strikeouts, 13 walks), Jackson Everman (P/2B; 3-4, 4.02 ERA, 47 innings, 45 strikeouts, 19 walks), Ryan Johnson (OF; .322, 11 RBI, 4 doubles) and Jacob Miller (OF/P; .327, 12 runs, 7 RBI).
"Jacob Miller is a four-year starter in the outfield and Jackson Everman has been one of our top starters for the past three seasons," said Gilkerson, whose team opened April 1 with a 4-2 win over Hamilton Township. "Ryan Johnson is in his second year as a starter and is a free swinger. He's fun to coach.
"Reilly Butz has been hitting well and we're happy with his bat. He's also definitely looking like our No. 2 pitcher."
Rounding out the senior class are Austin Hatcher (2B/P), Chris Kramb (1B/P) and Jake Martin (OF/P). The roster also includes juniors Ryan Beveridge (C), Zach Daylong (2B/P) and Brady Simpson, sophomores Preston Rapp (SS), Drew Haynes (3B) and Nick Jenkins (1B/3B/C) and freshman Cameron Duke (C).
"The kids want to improve and they want to learn every day," Gilkerson said. "Hopefully, that can translate into wins."