Licking Heights High School baseball coach Jeff Boyer has an enviable problem this spring.

Licking Heights High School baseball coach Jeff Boyer has an enviable problem this spring.

"We've had so many kids battling for spots," said Boyer, whose Hornets finished 13-9 overall a year ago and went 10-4 in the MSL-Cardinal Division to place third behind three-time champion Grandview. "Some of the decisions are tough to make, sure, because it's good we've had so many kids to choose from. There's been a lot of competition. And I really like our versatility, too."

Boyer is the third current Licking County coach to reach 30 years of service in the dugout, joining Heath's Dave Klontz (39th season) and Lakewood's Don Thorp (38th).

The Hornets are keeping 16 players on varsity. They include seniors Dan Pennington, a first-team all-league center fielder after moving there from shortstop early last season, and Cody Bailey, who now plays shortstop after earning first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district honors in Division II as a catcher. Bailey is expected to be the leadoff batter and both will be among the offensive catalysts.

The Hornets, who open Monday at East Knox, graduated first-team all-league and second-team all-district selection Roy Bias, a .483 hitter with 35 RBI. Bailey also is expected to join junior Josh Hoar at the front of the pitching rotation. Senior first baseman Nick Lewis returns as well. The other seniors are Austin Williams (3B/OF), Eric Wolfe (utility), Ethan Wooldridge (3B) and Travis Strickland (IF/OF).

Freshman infielder Ronnie Dawson brings a left-handed bat to the order with some power in it. Others to look for include juniors Graham Yonker, Ty Stallings and Bryan Haist and sophomores Mick Stakely, Zack Dunbrack, Zack Scott and Dalton Golden. Half of the 16 players can pitch, Boyer said. Forty-three participants tried out, and Boyer said he kept 19 players on the junior varsity.

"Just two years ago (as a Division III school), we had 26 players on the two teams," said Boyer, whose Hornets also play Wednesday against visiting Heath. "The district is growing so much and so fast. We've had a 130 percent increase (in attendance) since 2000. It's a culture change -- athletically, too. Our goal now is to field a freshman team (for the first time)."