Utica High School baseball coach Bren Henderson said this year's team reminds him of his first one.

Utica High School baseball coach Bren Henderson said this year's team reminds him of his first one.

That's high praise considering the Redskins posted a 20-6 record in 2007 and won the first of three consecutive MBC titles.

"The year I took over we had an experienced senior class, a bunch of juniors without a lot of experience and a few sophomores who had played quite a bit as freshmen," said Henderson, whose team finished 21-6 overall last year after a 7-6 loss against Watterson in a Division II sectional final and went 14-0 in the league. "That's kind of where we're at right now."

Seniors Joe Metzger, Derek Beaver and Joe Wheeler will anchor the lineup for Utica, which is 60-18 under Henderson in three seasons. That includes a 40-2 mark in MBC games.

Metzger, who can play several positions and might be the new center fielder, batted .333 out of the leadoff spot with 31 RBI and 25 runs scored. Wheeler, a first baseman, and Beaver, also an infielder, were among the offensive catalysts, too. Wheeler hit .346 with 22 RBI and 24 runs scored while Beaver batted .384 with eight doubles and 24 RBI.

Wheeler and Beaver also are the top pitchers now that Rob Shaw and Michael Sandman have graduated. Sandman, a Ball State recruit who made first-team all-district, posted a 4-2 record with 70 strikeouts and a 1.48 ERA. Also departing were catcher Jesse Hughes and center fielder Jerrod Ours, both of whom made second-team all-district and were three-year starters. Shaw and Hughes are playing at Muskingum.

Still, 11 pitching wins return with Wheeler (6-0, 2.31 ERA, 39 strikeouts), Beaver (3-0, 3.13 ERA, two saves) and sophomore third baseman Jeremy Jenkins (2-0). Sophomore Nate Wyscarver will get a look as will classmate Brett Roberts, who might be catching and hitting second in the order when the Redskins open Monday against Cardington.

Others to look for include juniors Austin Brown, Cayman Paulson, Levi Boyd, John Dixon and Matt Grandstaff, sophomores Derek Baker and Kyle Burwell, and freshmen Chris Rodgers, Drew Beaver and Dakota Young.

The Redskins, who have won five MBC titles since 2001, also dropped down to Division III for the first time since 2007.

"Our first goal is always to win the league," said Henderson, whose team plays Thursday at Sparta Highland, followed by a doubleheader Saturday at Thornville Sheridan. "Our second goal is to win the district, but that's not going to be any easier in Division III."