Newark Catholic High School baseball coach John Cannizzaro isn't ready to make his plans for the Division IV state tournament just yet.

Newark Catholic High School baseball coach John Cannizzaro isn't ready to make his plans for the Division IV state tournament just yet.

"About half of our varsity team is lacking varsity experience," he said. "We lost (starters at) five defensive positions (because of 2011 graduations)."

Nevertheless, it likely would be a surprise if the Green Wave, which does not have a Division IV opponent on its regular-season schedule, didn't advance to the season's final weekend. It has qualified for the state tournament eight times since 2002, reaching a state semifinal last spring before losing 6-5 to eventual-champion Minster to finish 22-7 overall. It won three consecutive titles from 2002-04, captured another in 2006 and finished as runner-up in 2007 and 2010.

The list of returnees is headlined by senior pitcher Jimmy Lough, who has signed with Ohio State, and senior center fielder Garrett Vernau, who will play at Tiffin. In addition, juniors Mitch Cox (2B/P) and James Thomas (SS) are attracting interest from colleges, Cannizzaro said.

Lough, who posted a 7-2 record and 0.77 ERA with 54 strikeouts, made first-team all-district and second-team all-state. Thomas also made first-team all-district, and Cox was second team.

The other returnees include senior Tanner Potts (OF/P) and sophomore Hunter Nance (OF).

Cox appears to be the replacement at second for junior Judah Wollenburg, who moved into the Toledo Ottawa Hills district.

Another big loss was the graduation of pitcher Michael Lewis (8-1, 1.64 ERA), who also played third base. Seniors Joe Pourier and Clay Parker will see time on the mound as well.

"We have good pitching depth despite losing (Lewis)," said Cannizzaro, whose team opens Monday, March 26, at Watterson. "We think we can replace his innings, maybe not with one guy.

"We have the capability of putting our quickest team out there top to bottom I've ever had, though. We're not a power-hitting team, but we're capable of putting pressure on people. We're not looking for any pinch runners, that's for sure, because our fastest guys will be in the lineup every day."

The Green Wave went 12-2 to finish first in the MSL-Ohio Division ahead of Heath (10-4), Granville (9-5), Columbus Academy (9-5), Bexley (7-7), Lakewood (4-10), Whitehall (3-11) and Licking Valley (2-12), which has a new coach in Adam Arcuri.

"I think record-wise Lakewood (might improve the most because) they were junior dominated last year and gave us fits in our two games," Cannizzaro said. "Heath has got the personnel. Academy, the same thing. Granville's got one of the (pitching) aces of the district in (senior Michael) Steenson and (Arcuri) certainly has the motivational skills.

"But other than Lakewood, everyone lost four or five starters."

•MORE BASEBALL - Newark coach Kyle Walters, whose team finished 8-15 overall a year ago to post a five-win improvement over 2010, expects runs to be harder to come by with new toned-down bats in use this spring.

That being said, he likes the way his defense is shaping up, especially up the middle with seniors Daniel Logan (2B/P) and Ben Mitchell (CF), juniors Chris Ehrhardt (C), Evan Brookbank (SS) and Colton Ponsor (2B) and sophomore Grant Russell (2B/P). Logan, Russell and senior Ben Barnhart (1B) all played on the boys basketball team that advanced to a Division I district final.

"We have decent team speed, and our defense up the middle might be as good as it's been since I've been coach," said Walters, who begins his fifth season when the Wildcats open Tuesday, March 27, at Hartley. "But we're going to need to manufacture some runs. With the new bats, that's going to be a little more difficult from what I've seen so far."

•SOFTBALL - Coming off its first Division IV district title since 2005, Newark Catholic has eight returning players led by seniors Jayla Graves (CF) and McKenzie Clark (SS) and juniors Caroline Wollenburg (3B) and Maggie Yocum (P/2B).

The others are seniors Kim White (C/LF) and Devani Adam, junior Hallie Parker (C/LF) and sophomore Kaycie Brown (P/2B).

Graves (.356 batting average, two home runs, 18 RBI, 24 runs scored, 13 stolen bases) and Wollenburg (.435, 16 RBI, 24 runs, 12 steals) made first-team all-district as the Green Wave finished 19-9 with a 1-0 loss to Fairfield Leesburg in a regional semifinal. It allowed just two combined runs in five postseason games. Yocum (9 wins, 1.85 ERA, 102 strikeouts) was second-team all-district.

The Green Wave, which opens Tuesday, March 27, at Madison Christian, went 5-7 to finish fifth in the MSL-Ohio behind Lakewood (10-2), Licking Valley (9-3), Granville (7-5) and Heath (6-6) and ahead of Whitehall (4-8) and Bexley (1-11).