The Licking Heights High School baseball team is hoping to reverse a recent trend.
After winning consecutive MSL-Cardinal Division championships the previous two years, the Hornets lost in the second round of the Division II district tournament. Both times, the nemesis was Bexley, as the Lions won 4-2 in 2011 and 9-4 last season.
So when the Hornets failed to win a third consecutive MSL-Cardinal title this season, their attention turned toward the postseason and a possible second-round matchup against -- of course -- Bexley.
"Maybe things will turn around this season," coach Jeff Boyer said. "Maybe we'll have a better tournament run this time, and we can trade the league title for something bigger."
The Hornets are seeded eighth for the district tournament and open Tuesday, May 14, at home against Eastmoor Academy. Eastmoor is seeded 24th in the 26-team field.
The winner plays at second-seeded Bexley in the second round Thursday, May 16.
"We'd love to get another shot at Bexley," Boyer said. "They've ended our season the past two years, and I know the boys would like nothing more than turn the tables on them. Bexley does have a good program and their coach does a great job there year in and year out. But we've got to get past Eastmoor first."
The Lions are led by pitcher Josh Shapiro, who has beaten top-seeded Granville, third-seeded Licking Valley and 10th-seeded Lakewood and was the pitcher of record last year against the Hornets.
"He mixes his pitches very well," Boyer said. "He's an old-school pitcher, too. He knows how to pitch the game and set hitters up. He's not just relying on his talent."
Outfielder Jimmy Kahan (.330) and Shapiro (.344, 19 runs, 19 RBI) led the Lions in hitting through 20 games.
"We have some familiarity and there's recent history between us," Boyer said. "Last year, we had one bad inning against them and gave up seven runs. It was the most runs we allowed in an inning all season."
The second-round winner plays in a district semifinal May 21 at Dublin Coffman against fourth-seeded Jonathan Alder, Lakewood or 25th-seeded Columbus South.
Through 20 games, the Hornets were led by shortstop Jake Foley (.550, 22 RBI) and second baseman Ronnie Dawson (.545, 12 home runs, 40 RBI). Third baseman Andrew Bailey was hitting .428 with 22 RBI and pitcher/designated hitter Jacob Kayser had six home runs and 29 RBI.
The Hornets were 16-4 overall and 10-3 in the MSL-Cardinal after beating Grandview 18-2 on May 7. They played Columbus Academy in a non-league game May 9.
Against Grandview, Dawson hit a grand slam in an 11-run seventh inning, Kayser also homered and Jacob Brandwein and Bailey combined on a no-hitter. Brandwein went six innings and also hit a home run.
However, Liberty Union beat West Jefferson 5-2 the same day to clinch the league championship at 12-2. Fisher Catholic finished 11-3, and the Hornets played West Jefferson in a makeup game May 10 with a chance to share second place.
"We're disappointed to not win our third straight league championship, but I'm still very proud of the kids," Boyer said. "We lost our entire pitching staff and our catcher from last year and were in the hunt for a title down to the final games.
"The game that hurts the most was the loss to Fisher (Catholic 9-6 on April 25). We played our worst game, and it cost us a piece of the title. Liberty Union just beat us twice (5-3 on April 10 and 7-0 on April 26), but we didn't come to play against Fisher."
Softball team hopes to add to big season
The softball team, which has posted its best win total in more than a decade, is seeded sixth for the Division II district tournament and has a first-round bye.
The Hornets were 19-6 overall before playing Fairfield Christian on May 9 and 10-3 in the MSL-Cardinal before playing a makeup game against West Jefferson on May 10.
Licking Heights, which surpassed its 16-win season of 2002, begins the postseason Wednesday, May 15, when they play host to seventh-seeded Jonathan Alder or 26th-seeded Linden-McKinley in the second round.
The Hornets have not played Jonathan Alder or Linden this season. In fact, they have not played any of their possible district opponents.
"We did that intentionally, finding a spot on the bracket where we weren't going to have to play a team with a big history," coach Bo Ramsey said. "We know too much about (second-seeded) Lakewood, (third-seeded) Licking Valley and (fourth-seeded) Granville and those will be the teams we'll see two times every year (in the Licking County League) starting next year.
"Although we know Jonathan Alder and (top-seeded Caledonia) River Valley will be tough, we can play them and not the name on their jersey. We have a mental block with some teams, like Liberty Union, and we wanted to eliminate that and just play ball. I wanted to keep our girls from their own head games."
The second-round winner plays in a district semifinal May 20 at Pickerington Central against River Valley, 21st-seeded Hamilton Township or 22nd-seeded Brookhaven.
Track teams ready for league meet
The boys and girls track and field teams will play host to the MSL-Cardinal meet Tuesday, May 14, and Friday, May 17.
Last season, the girls finished second (135 points) behind Grandview (167) and ahead of Fisher Catholic (106), Berne Union (86), Liberty Union (71), West Jefferson (49), Millersport (35) and host Harvest Prep (5).
Junior Skyler Ortiz won the 100-meter hurdles (15.19 seconds) and high jump (5 feet) and ran on the winning 800 relay (1:49.33) with juniors Justice Stegall and Camerone Bryant and senior PyLynne Myers.
Bryant won the 400 (1:01.47) and junior Ashton Malicoate won pole vault (8-6).
The boys finished fourth (71) in the league meet behind Liberty Union (192), Grandview (135) and Berne Union (71) and ahead of Harvest Prep (57), Fisher Catholic (53), Millersport (34) and West Jefferson (33).
Both teams will compete in the Division I, district 1 meet May 21, 23 and 25 at Hilliard Darby. The running preliminaries will be May 21, with field events May 23 and running finals May 25. The top four in each event will advance to regional May 29 and 31 at Pickerington North.
Volleyball team has tough tourney draw
The boys volleyball team opened the Division II East Region tournament May 11 against top-seeded DeSales, which was 18-3.
The winner plays Olentangy, Whetstone or Watterson in a regional semifinal Wednesday, May 15, at Buckeye Valley.
The Hornets were 1-13. They lost to DeSales 25-6, 25-14, 25-16 on April 4, lost to Watterson 25-6, 25-6 on April 2 and split with Whetstone, losing 25-17, 25-21, 25-17 on April 23 and winning 25-22, 24-26, 25-10, 23-25, 15-13 on May 2.