The magic number for the Licking Heights High School baseball team this season is three.
The Hornets will be seeking to end their tenure in the MSL-Cardinal Division with three consecutive league championships, plus they will have three third-year starters in the infield on which to rely.
Seniors Ronnie Dawson (2B), Jake Foley (SS) and Andrew Bailey (3B) are being counted on to anchor the defense and fuel the offense as the Hornets take time to stabilize their untested pitching staff.
"Until we settle in with our pitchers, the goal is to rely on the defense and pound the ball offensively," said Jeff Boyer, who begins his 33rd season as coach when the Hornets play host Monday, April 1, to East Knox. "We lost three pitchers and a catcher last year and pitching coach A.J. Barnes will call most of the pitches and bring along our pitchers this year until they're more comfortable on the mound."
Dawson, an Ohio State signee, was the MSL-Cardinal Player of the Year last season after he batted .526 in league play and .471 overall. He was second-team all-district in Division II.
"I've been coaching a long, long time and he is by far the best hitter I've ever seen and he's our first Division I (college) player," Boyer said. "He has a great attitude and makes the players and the coaches around him better. He's a natural athlete who stays after for extra work and we're fortunate to have him in our program."
Foley was first-team all-league and Bailey received second-team honors last season.
"Foley is fundamentally sound and a great kid, and Bailey shows flashes of being as good as anyone we've had in the program," Boyer said. "(Bailey) is a kid who is great at anything he tries. He could probably pick up a Ping-Pong paddle and be an all-star.
"Those three aren't just third-year starters, but they batted 3-4-5 last year and were the staple of our offense. It looks like Foley will move to leadoff, Dawson will remain at No. 3 and Bailey will move from fifth to clean-up."
Licking Heights finished 19-5 overall last season after losing to Bexley 9-4 in the second round of the district tournament, marking the second year in a row the Hornets lost to the Lions in the second round. Licking Heights is 51-19 over the past three seasons and has not posted a losing record since 1997.
The Hornets, who next season will play in the Licking County League, went 13-1 in the MSL-Cardinal last year to finish ahead of runner-up Liberty Union (12-2) and earn consecutive league titles for the first time since 1961 and 1962.
Other returning starters include senior Steven Clum (RF) and junior Chuck Aitken (LF), although Aitken is injured and will not play this season.
Other returnees include seniors Drew Giffin (P/C) and Tyler Sims (OF/P). Both are third-year varsity players.
Newcomers include juniors Blake Beaver (OF/3B), Jacob Brandwein (LHP/1B), Luke Langkamp (LHP/1B), Jacob Kayser (P/C), Eric Stubhar (utility) and Dakotah Waller (OF).
"Giffin has a lot of baseball smarts and intelligence and we're hoping he brings it to the mound and has a standout year," Boyer said. "Langkamp is more of a power pitcher and Brandwein is what you'd call our crafty lefty.
"I think Clum, Kayser, Sims and Giffin will give us some added offensive punch around Foley, Dawson and Bailey. If we can get that offense to go along with a strong defense, these kids definitely will have a chance to do what few players can do by winning a third straight league title. But we know Liberty Union will be good again, Fisher Catholic is always decent and West Jefferson has a decent program."
Softball team sets higher goals
The softball team, coming off its best finish in a decade, is seeking higher goals this season.
The Hornets finished 15-9 overall last year, losing to fifth-seeded Hartley 5-0 in the second round of the Division II district tournament after beating Beechcroft 10-0 in the first round. It was their most wins since the 2002 team won 16 games.
The Hornets went 8-6 in the MSL-Cardinal to tie Berne Union for third behind Liberty Union (14-0) and West Jefferson (12-2).
"We want to improve on those things," second-year coach Bo Ramsey said. "We want to win the league, advance to (at least a) district (semifinal) and win 20 games."
Seniors Alyssa Stanley (SS) and Cassidy Cochrum (3B) made first-team all-league a year ago. Classmate Emily Wander (1B) and junior Kelsi Wilson (P/CF) were second-team all-league and junior Kait Dunbrack (C) was honorable mention.
Stanley, who also was first-team all-district, batted .512. She plans to play in college but has not picked a school.
Cochrum, who batted .464 last season, will play for Muskingum University.
Wilson will share time in the circle with sophomore Georgeanna Pendexter and both also play in the outfield.
Senior Brynna Fetter (2B) shares captain duties with Stanley, Cochrum and Wander.
Pendexter or Wilson will be joined in the outfield by sophomore Kelsey Hoar and freshman Caitlin Aitken. Sophomore Kayla Myrthil also is expected to see time in the outfield, although she is expected to miss half the season with an injury.
"I think our pitching and defense will be the strength of our team," Ramsey said. "That should keep us in most games. I think Liberty Union and West Jefferson will be our toughest league opponents."