Not all seniors are created equal, and Watkins Memorial High School baseball coach Don Schone is bracing for that fact.

Not all seniors are created equal, and Watkins Memorial High School baseball coach Don Schone is bracing for that fact.

"We have the same number of seniors (8) as last year but we're definitely younger in terms of varsity experience," he said. "A lot of them are what we like to call 'program kids,' though, and now's their chance. It's a very young and a very old group all at once. That happens when you have a bottleneck like we've had with these back-to-back classes."

Last year's graduates featured Division I college prospects in pitcher Justin Warrington (Ball State) and catcher K.C. Weber (Wright State). They played key roles as the Warriors finished 13-15 overall but went 8-2 in the OCC-Capital Division to win a second title in three years, sharing it with New Albany. Dublin Scioto departed in the new alignment as the Warriors and Eagles now are joined by holdovers Franklin Heights and Big Walnut and newcomers Delaware, Mount Vernon and first-year Olentangy Orange.

"Top to bottom the league's even stronger," said Schone, whose team opens Tuesday against defending Division I district-champion Hilliard Darby. "That's always our first goal."

Much of the outfield returns intact with seniors Mike Shroyer in center and Sean Fannin in left. The other outfielders include classmates Dale Gullett, Dalton Atkins and Andrew Hunt.

Junior Taylor Day, who won four league games last spring, is set to replace Warrington as the top starter on the pitching staff. Other key players include sophomore D.J. Collins, who is moving from second base to shortstop, and junior Matt Connor, who is moving from third base to catcher.

The Warriors advanced to the Division II state final in 2006 and a regional final a year later. They moved up to Division I last spring and reached a district semifinal before losing to fifth-seeded Zanesville 4-3.

"As a staff we've had some success here pretty early," said Schone, who has a 72-67 record entering his sixth season. "This group, we think it can be a special one, and we haven't really identified any of our teams that way before. I don't think people are expecting as much from us."

Watkins Memorial's Matt Connor connects with a pitch last Tuesday during a scrimmage against Newark. The Warriors will open Tuesday against Hilliard Darby.