Three outs from winning their first district title last season, the Northridge High School softball team and second-year coach Ralph Taylor have high hopes for this spring.

Three outs from winning their first district title last season, the Northridge High School softball team and second-year coach Ralph Taylor have high hopes for this spring.

The Vikings finished 26-3 overall last year, losing to fifth-seeded Sparta Highland 3-2 in a Division III district final. Second-seeded Northridge failed to hold a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning.

The Vikings set a program record for wins in a season and won their first league title by finishing 12-2 in the MBC. Danville was second at 11-3 followed by Loudonville (10-4), Utica (8-6), East Knox (6-8), Fredericktown (5-9), Johnstown-Monroe (4-10) and Centerburg (0-14).

"After our last game last year, I think the kids and myself both started looking forward to this season," said Taylor, whose team opens Wednesday, March 30, at home against Licking Heights. "We hated to lose like we did, and our goal is to get one game further than we did last year."

The Vikings return much of their lineup including junior pitcher Kimber

Hazlett, who was second-team all-state. Hazlett went 18-3 with an ERA of 0.49 in 142 innings with 262 strikeouts, 19 walks and she gave up only 52 hits. At the plate, she hit .388 (31-for-80) with four homers, three triples, 24 runs, 15 RBI and 18 stolen bases.

Also back in the circle is junior Kayla Davison, who was 4-0 with a 0.54 ERA in 26 innings with 39 strikeouts, 11 walks and eight hits allowed. Sophomore Kassi Davison was 3-0 and did not surrender an earned run in 22 innings. She struck out 24 while allowing six walks and six hits.

Starters returning are senior outfielder Jessica Simmons (.326, 1 homer, 22 runs, 16 RBI, 21 stolen bases), senior catcher Chelsea Tietz (.304, 3 homers, 19 runs, 15 RBI, 18 SB), junior shortstop Kara Barclay, Kayla Davison at second and Kassi Davison at first. Sophomore Taylor Mann has moved to third after playing the outfield last year.

Another starter, senior outfielder Kelly King, is injured and will not play.

"The kids are confident, but they play enough softball that they handle (the pressure of expectations) well," Taylor said. "The thing I have to do is keep the kids focused every inning, and no matter what the score is, (make sure) they are playing as hard as they can."

New to the roster are senior Shannon Woosley, junior Sarah Grindle, sophomore Taylor Kelly and freshman Courtney Mann.

"Even with the success we had last year, we didn't hit the ball well," Taylor said. "We didn't hit in the district final, and that cost us. We have been hitting a lot in the offseason, and I have already noticed a difference this spring. If we score five or six runs, we'll win a lot of games with the pitching we have."

•The baseball team has a new coach in Jeff Wilson as the Vikings try to improve on last year's 5-20 finish. Northridge lost to third-seeded Heath 9-2 in the second round of the Division III district tournament.

Northridge finished seventh in the MBC at 3-11, behind champion Fredericktown (13-1), Utica (11-3), Centerburg (8-6), Johnstown (7-7) and Loudonville (7-7) and East Knox (5-9), and ahead of Danville (1-13).

"We have a young team, but the kids are working really hard right now," said Wilson, a podiatrist who coached the middle-school program to an 18-2 record last spring. "We have a pretty tough schedule and we plan to improve quite a bit from last year."

Junior outfielder Brandon Hull is back after leading the team in hitting with a .347 batting average, 16 runs, 17 RBI and 23 stolen bases. Senior Cody King (SS/RHP) hit .318 with 16 runs.

Senior Tim Sullivan (3B) returns along with juniors Ricky Cella (2B), Josh Harbaugh (SS/2B), Hank McCormick (LHP/1B) and Cody Sparks (LHP/1B).

Sophomores include Austin Campbell (CF), Jerrad Carr (C), Storm Strout (RHP/RF) and Ross Wilson (RHP/3B).

Junior Stephen Peters (C) will not play because of a back injury.

"We have more of a base-to-base philosophy, playing small ball with bunts, sacrifices, stolen bases and things like that," Wilson said. "We're small, but we're fast.

"The kids need to work on pitching. We're still young on pitching. Defensively we're solid and we have been hitting well, but our pitching is young, but they have great potential for coming seasons."

Northridge opens April 4 at Fredericktown.

Schedules

Below is the coming schedule for the Northridge boys and girls track and field teams:

April 5 - At Millersport April 7 - Dick Houston Relays at Licking Valley

SCHEDULES

BASEBALL

*April 4 - at Fredericktown *April 5 - vs. East Knox *April 8 - at Centerburg *April 11 - vs. Johnstown *April 12 - at Danville *April 15 - at Loudonville *April 18 - vs. Utica *April 19 - vs. Fredericktown *April 21 - at East Knox April 23 - at Bexley with Hilliard Bradley *April 25 - vs. Centerburg *April 26 - at Johnstown *April 29 - vs. Danville April 30 - at Heath (DH) *May 2 - vs. Loudonville *May 3 - at Utica May 7 - vs. Mount Gilead (DH)

SOFTBALL

March 30 - vs. Licking Heights April 1 - at Olentangy Orange April 2 - at Westland with Whetstone *April 4 - at Fredericktown *April 5 - vs. East Knox April 7 - at Fisher Catholic *April 8 - at Centerburg April 9 - at Bloom-Carroll with Ready *April 11 - vs. Johnstown *April 12 - at Danville *April 15 - at Loudonville April 16 - at New Albany (DH) *April 18 - vs. Utica *April 19 - vs. Fredericktown *April 21 - at East Knox *April 25 - vs. Centerburg *April 26 - at Johnstown *April 29 - vs. Danville April 30 - at Logan (DH) *May 2 - vs. Loudonville *May 3 - at Utica May 7 - vs. Fairfield Christian (DH)

*MBC game