Pitching has propelled the Watkins Memorial High School baseball team in its pursuit to win the OCC-Capital Division championship in its final season in the league.
The Warriors, who will move to the Licking County League next year, were 14-3 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Capital after defeating Delaware 5-2 on April 25. Their pitching depth provides coach Donnie Schone with some options that other coaches may not have.
"I try to pitch my guys every fifth day," Schone said. "Having four or five very capable pitchers lets us do that. So when it comes to the OCC games, I look for Danny Sexton and Tony Winters to do most of the work, knowing we have Charlie Schmidt and Chandler Day in relief."
Sexton scattered five hits in a 2-0 win over Big Walnut on April 23 in a league contest and was 5-0 with a 1.22 ERA through 16 games. Winters was 2-1 with a 2.52 ERA and the team ERA was 2.56.
"Danny is good because of his confidence in all his pitches and his tempo," Schone said. "He is a great defensive pitcher. He gets a lot of groundouts and keeps his defense moving with his pitch selection.
"Tony has an explosive fastball and great curveball. Being his fourth year with us on varsity, we know he does not get rattled."
Sexton and Winters are senior left-handers. Schmidt, who is a senior, and Day, a sophomore, are right-handers.
Schone said all four are good at getting ahead of batters in the count.
"We want to throw strikes and throw strikes early," he said. "Another thing we try to do is have good tempo. Our staff this year is experienced and it doesn't hurt that they have good arms. Plus, they have confidence in all their pitches and that helps when one of their pitches is off."
Schone believes the fielders backing up the pitching staff have room to improve even though the Warriors have been limiting their defensive mistakes.
"Outside of (a 6-1 loss to Lake Orion (Mich.) on April 5), the other two games we lost we deserved to lose because of some poor defense," he said. "I have told them there are four ways to win and lose games. You can play great and win, play bad and win, play great and lose and play bad and lose.
"This is why any team has a chance (to beat us) and it's why we as a team need to field the ball better."
Watkins Memorial's other losses came against Mount Vernon (5-2 on April 12) and Lakewood (6-4 on April 20).
Junior third baseman Steve Asbury has been leading the Warriors' offense, hitting .455 with two home runs, nine runs and 11 RBI through 16 games. Other key contributors include senior second baseman Jordan Miller (.382), Winters (.361, 9 runs) and junior catcher Justin Treinish (9 runs).
Junior Rickie Frey has replaced senior Corey Derugen in left field. Derugen is expected to miss the remainder of the season after breaking his left leg in two places in a 10-0, six-inning win over Delaware on April 8.
"Losing Corey does hurt," Schone said. "You cannot replace his speed and he is so versatile and was very good in the No. 9 spot in the order. But Rickie Frey has done a great job in left field and we're using a committee at the nine spot."
Softball team begins to show improvement
The softball team lost its first eight games but won three of its next six.
The Warriors defeated Franklin Heights 15-5 on April 15 for their first win in the OCC-Capital and then split a doubleheader with Whetstone on April 20, winning the second game 6-4 after losing the first 10-6.
Watkins Memorial defeated Mount Vernon 4-3 on April 23 in a league contest.
"I think the win against Franklin Heights gave us the boost we needed offensively," coach Tamara Ulrich said. "We are playing very well even though our record and box scores don't always show that. We play hard every day. It seems that we have the one long inning where we give up extra outs and it hurts us. Once we can overcome those innings, we will win more games."
Staying positive is another concern for Ulrich. The Warriors are young, with only one senior on their roster.
"We actually talked about how young we are as a team this week," Ulrich said. "The players unanimously decided they were tired of being called young and they are ready to step up and show everyone how much they've grown in a short amount of time.
"I am pleased with the effort the girls are giving. We do need to step up a lot in order to turn the corner completely, but we're getting there. The girls have a much better attitude this year, which makes a big difference. We are still working on the mental part of softball. Physically, we are stronger and better than before, but we do struggle mentally at times. Sometimes it's tough to keep the players in a good mental place, but they are doing well and know they can do better."
According to Ulrich, among the players who have shown steady improvement are center fielder Kim Romshe, third baseman Anna Shroyer, outfielder Jayden Johnson and pitchers Shanna Cashdollar and Brooke Schindler.
"Romshe has moved up to leadoff in the order and is doing well getting on base," Ulrich said. "Shroyer and Johnson have stepped up to put the ball in play and are getting extra-base hits when we need them.
"Our pitchers are improving every day. They are hitting their spots more and mixing speeds to keep the batters guessing. Both had their first complete games against Whetstone."
Cashdollar threw a five-hitter against Mount Vernon, helping the Warriors overcome five errors.