The Licking County Athletics will begin play this week with a different postseason goal in mind.

The Licking County Athletics will begin play this week with a different postseason goal in mind.

"The (American Legion state tournament) is there to go after if we continue to win like we have (in previous seasons)," said coach Rick Houston, who returns after a one-year absence to replace Jeff Maier. "With no World Series this year, well, that's a sad thing, but we'll go out and make the best of it. Hopefully, it'll return to Newark."

After a five-year run at Don Edwards Park, the Babe Ruth 16-18 years old World Series has moved to Moses Lake, Wash. So the District 6 legion tournament, which will begin July 11 in Sparta, will be the first postseason test for the A's, who are being sponsored by St. Louisville Post 804. The state legion tournament runs July 26-Aug. 1 in Athens. The A's captured the state title the last time they played in it in 2005.

"World Series or not, I think we'll all be excited to play again," said Utica High School senior pitcher and infielder Michael Sandman, a Ball State recruit. "The A's are the summer team around here everyone wants to play for, and I don't think that's changed."

The A's, who will open Wednesday at Pickerington Post 283, will sport a veteran lineup despite several new faces, including first-team all-MSL-Ohio Division players such as Miles Richardson and Matt Lewis of Newark Catholic.

Nine players return from last year's World Series team, however. They include Licking Valley senior Chase Houston, who was first-team all-district in Division II and was the MSL-Ohio Player of the Year. He will be participating in the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association's Mizuno All-Ohio Series, which will be held June 12-13 in Chillicothe. Houston is hopeful of playing in college next year, possibly at Ohio University.

"We've got several kids who are getting ready to play in college and several more who are still trying to earn spots on a college team somewhere," coach Houston said. "That's motivation right there."

The other returning players include Licking Valley's Cole Blake and Drew Ryan, Newark's Michael Boichan, Heath's Alex Van Dine and Steven Kidwell, Utica's Jesse Hughes and Newark Catholic's Garrett Clark, who helped the MSL-Ohio-champion Green Wave advance to this weekend's Division IV regional tournament.

Sandman, who also was first-team all-district in Division II and helped the Redskins win the MBC title, played a year ago as the A's failed to qualify for the championship tournament at the World Series eventually won by Portland, Ore.

The only players who will be eligible to return to their high-school teams next year are Licking Valley's Jason Holman, Boichan and Lakewood's Bryan Large. The A's roster numbered 16 as of last week, and it included former Newark standout and current Ohio-State-Newark student Jon Pyles.

"There's a ton of seniors in this group," said coach Houston, who still was trying to settle on his final two roster spots, one of which might be taken by Watkins Memorial's Mike Shroyer. "We've got pretty good team speed, and we have a lot of pitching depth. I think 13 of our kids can pitch."

The scheduled home opener Thursday against the Ohio Elite has been canceled, coach Houston said, so the first game at Don Edwards Park is set for June 9 against Chillicothe Post 757. The team also will play the Junior A's on June 13 at Don Edwards Park.

"Our guys, they just want to go play baseball and forget the negative stuff," coach Houston said.

ALSO -- Granville is fielding a legion team this summer as well and it will be coached by Sean Rainey. The first games against the A's will be a doubleheader June 27 at Don Edwards Park.

At a glance

Below is the roster for the Licking County Athletics, with the high school and position for each player:

Heath -- Steven Kidwell (P/OF), Alex Van Dine (P/OF)

Lakewood -- Bryan Large (P/INF), Michael Ghiloni (P/OF)

Licking Valley -- Cole Blake (P/INF), Jason Holman (C), Nate Hopkins (OF), Chase Houston (P/INF), Drew Ryan (P/INF)

Newark --Michael Boichan (P)

Newark Catholic -- Garrett Clark (P), Matt Lewis (INF), Miles Richardson (P/OF)

OSU-Newark -- Jon Pyles (P)

Utica -- Jesse Hughes (C), Michael Sandman (P/INF)