The Newark High School baseball team won a Division I district championship last spring. The other two titles also were taken by members of the league, and Gahanna advanced to a regional final.

The Newark High School baseball team won a Division I district championship last spring. The other two titles also were taken by members of the league, and Gahanna advanced to a regional final.

But realignment has made the OCC-Ohio even more difficult, second-year coach Kyle Walters said. The newcomers include Pickerington North, which won last year's OCC-Central title, and Pickerington Central, which shared first place in the OCC-Cardinal. Hilliard Darby, which won the OCC-Ohio and was a district champion, too, is gone, but power Grove City, which had longtime coach Jim Habermehl retire, is in. The other holdovers are Groveport, Gahanna and Lancaster. Reynoldsburg is the division's eighth team.

"We're going from 10 league games to 14, too. That's every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, a real grind," said Walters, whose team will open Monday against Westerville South. "The league got a whole lot tougher, definitely."

The Wildcats, who upset North 7-1 in a district semifinal a year ago and then beat Dublin Scioto 5-0 in the final to earn a second trip to the regional in three seasons, will lean heavily on several seniors. They include outfielder Taylor Huffman, corner infielder Dan Williams, catcher Jon Stickradt and second baseman J.T. Caruso.

The other seniors are John Harden, Jeff Yoeh and shortstop Ryan Deuschle, who will miss time early because of non-baseball related matters. Junior left-hander Michael Boichan, who posted a 7-3 record last season and is the top returning pitcher, has been limited in preseason by a leg injury.

Williams and Harden are expected to pitch behind Boichan, who is attracting interest from several Division I colleges.

Other top players include juniors Garrett Williams, Zeb Winkelman and Chase Mathie, a shortstop who became the football team's starting quarterback last fall.

Newark lost to West Chester Lakota West 13-2 in a regional semifinal last year to finish 16-14 overall. Six of the Central District's eight regional participants in the four divisions won at least one game. Lakewood St. Edward earned the Division I state championship.

"Last year, the stars aligned just right and everyone was playing well at the same time," said Walters, whose team finished fourth at 5-5 in the OCC-Ohio as Darby was first at 9-1. "To do it again we'll have to put in a lot of work and get the little things right."