The Licking Valley High School baseball team's personnel turnover isn't limited to the field.

The Licking Valley High School baseball team's personnel turnover isn't limited to the field.

Brian Ledford replaced Rick Houston as coach.

Houston guided the Panthers, who graduated 10 players, to a 58-21 record and a pair of MSL-Ohio Division titles in three seasons. That included last year's 16-9 overall mark following an 8-6 loss to top-seeded Canal Winchester in a Division II district final.

"Things are a little different, that's for sure," said Ledford, who will make his debut in Tuesday's opener at Canal Winchester, which also eliminated Licking Valley 5-3 in a district final in 2008. "We're young with only three returning lettermen. We're pretty athletic, though, and we've got great kids. We're just inexperienced."

Seniors Nick Moore (pitcher) and Jason Holman (catcher) are among the returning players. So is junior Tregg Lee, who is expected to move to shortstop after playing in the outfield a year ago as the Panthers went 9-5 in the league to share second place with Granville behind champion Newark Catholic (11-3).

Three of last year's seniors are playing in college. They include first-team all-district selection Chase Houston, a four-year starter at second base who successfully walked on at Ohio University. He was named ThisWeek's Player of the Year after batting .487 with 25 RBI while stealing 21 bases. He made just one regular-season error, also posting a 4-2 pitching record with a 3.13 ERA. Shortstop Drew Ryan (Urbana) made first-team all-league, and third baseman Cole Blake (Tiffin) was first-team all-league and honorable-mention all-district.

"We've told the kids since day one there are a lot of spots open. That if they come in and work hard they have as legitimate a shot as anyone at playing," Ledford said. "We've gotten a great response to that."

The six seniors also include Garrett Shepherd (P), Ryan Smeltzer (OF), Eric Mitchell (utility) and Matt Bates (SS). The latter two did not play last spring.

Junior Cory Workman is expected to play second base and bat high in the order, and sophomore first baseman Trace Johnson will bring power to the middle of the lineup. The front of the pitching rotation should include junior Braynt Trout, Bates, Moore and Shepherd. Others to look for include juniors Joe May and Steven Bradley and sophomores Jacob Griffith and Avery Stalnaker.

The Panthers play Wednesday at Mount Vernon before Carrollton and Northridge visit for a doubleheader Saturday. Ledford, a math teacher at the high school who has spent six years in the baseball program as an assistant and junior varsity coach, is a Carrollton graduate.

He retained Roy Whisner as an assistant and Rick Zemen as the freshman coach. Chad Carter is the new j.v. coach. Ledford also added Travis Kniffin, a Licking Valley graduate, to his staff along with George Biddle Jr., who starred at Newark Catholic before playing a few years in the minor leagues.