Watkins Memorial High School baseball coach Donnie Schone knows his team will be facing one of the top pitchers in central Ohio when it plays Olentangy Liberty in a Division I district semifinal Tuesday, May 21, at Pickerington North.
However, Schone thinks the third-seeded Warriors have a pair of aces equally as talented in Danny Sexton and Tony Winters.
"When you get to this level, you're going to see some real strong pitching no matter who you face," said Schone, whose team beat 40th-seeded Logan 14-0 in five innings in the second round May 15 to improve to 21-6 after having a first-round bye. "I think, being the third seed, we'll see everybody's ace the rest of the (district) tournament."
Eighth-seeded Liberty, which improved to 19-8 by beating 25th-seeded New Albany 11-1 in five innings in the second round May 15, is led by junior pitcher Jacob Niggemeyer, who has committed to Ohio State.
Niggemeyer, a right-hander who also plays third base, consistently throws 86-88 mph and has thrown above 90 mph. Through 26 games, he was 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA and had a team-high .493 batting average with four home runs and 32 RBI.
"From everything I hear, he's a great pitcher and total player," Schone said. "You don't get Division I scholarships unless you're a pretty talented player."
Other key players for Liberty include junior shortstop Danny Kirchner, senior second baseman Louis Firmstone and junior pitcher Jacob Griffiths. Kirchner was hitting .451 with three home runs and 23 RBI, Firmstone was batting .410 with 15 RBI and Griffiths was 3-1 with four saves and a 3.73 ERA.
The semifinal winner will play 14th-seeded Marysville or 20th-seeded Westerville North in a district final Thursday, May 23, at Ohio Dominican. The district champion advances to a regional semifinal May 30 at Dublin Coffman.
Watkins Memorial did not play Liberty, Marysville or Westerville North during the regular season. Marysville improved to 17-6 with a 3-0 win over Westerville Central in the second round May 15 and North was 15-14 after upsetting 10th-seeded St. Charles 4-2 in the second round May 15.
"The bottom line is that we continue with the process that got us to this point and that is concentrating on our game," Schone said. "We're going to come in prepared to work hard in practice and try to stay sharp and focused. We may pick up a game before then, but we understand what we have to do. Focus is the key.
"We need to be locked in. When we're not, you can see it in our defense or lack of execution offensively when we have runners in scoring position. All teams are going to make errors and outs because we're all human, but we need to stay fundamentally sharp and play the game the way we know we can."
Against Logan, Sexton threw 50 pitches in four innings, outfielder Winters went 3-for-3 and third baseman Steven Asbury and shortstop Charlie Schmidt both went 2-for-2. Both of Asbury's hits were doubles.
"We did what we had to do," Schone said. "Our starters and non-starters all got their work in and did well."
Young softball team showed improvement
The softball team ended its season with a 6-2 loss to 13th-seeded Groveport in the first round of the Division I district tournament May 14.
Watkins Memorial finished 4-23 overall and went 2-12 in the OCC-Capital Division to tie Mount Vernon and Franklin Heights for sixth, behind Olentangy (13-1), Olentangy Orange (12-2), Delaware (11-3), Big Walnut (8-6) and New Albany (6-8).
The Warriors finished 1-23 overall last season.
"It's an improvement, but it's obviously nowhere close to where we want to be," coach Tamara Ulrich said. "But we showed steady progress in hitting and especially on defense. We were 60-to-70 points higher in our team batting average than we were last season and we made major strides on defense."
The Warriors lose one senior in Olivia Casto (1B).
Expected to return are juniors Shanna Cashdollar (P), Allison Dzwiera (OF), Kaitlyn Snider (C) and Renee Theibert (designated player/ OF), sophomores Devon Atchison (2B) and Anna Shroyer (3B) and freshmen Sarah Beach (OF), Nicole Deavers (SS/P), Lexi Dennison (INF), Jayden Johnson (3B/OF), Kim Romshe (OF) and Brooke Schindler (LHP).
"Olivia had a very good year considering she didn't play last year," Ulrich said. "She was a great leader and ended up batting clean-up for us. With nearly everyone back, we should be improved again next year. We should be able to get to the next step."
Boys tennis team ties for fourth in OCC
The boys tennis team tied for fourth in the final OCC-Capital standings.
Watkins Memorial, Big Walnut and Delaware each went 3-4 in league matches during the regular season and completed the league tournament May 11 at Olentangy with 35 points to finish behind New Albany (82, 7-0), Olentangy (55, 6-1) and Orange (53, 5-2) and ahead of Mount Vernon (16, 1-6) and Franklin Heights (2, 0-7).
In the league tournament, senior Dylan Clear (first singles), senior Austin Williams (second singles) and senior Jordan Parks and junior Ryan Cash (second doubles) all went 1-2 and finished fourth. Senior Max Nader (third singles) went 1-2 and placed sixth and sophomore Derek Clear and junior Andy Lyons (first doubles) went 0-2 and finished eighth.
The Warriors competed in the Division I sectional tournament May 16 and 18 at Reynoldsburg. The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament Friday, May 24, and Saturday, May 25, at Hilliard Davidson. The top four placers at district advance to the state tournament May 31 and June 1 at Ohio State.
Track teams getting set for postseason
The track and field teams will compete in the Division I district meet this week at Hilliard Darby.
The boys team is one of 16 teams competing in district 2. The field events will be held Tuesday, May 21, followed by the running preliminaries Wednesday, May 22, and the running finals Saturday May 25.
The girls team is in the 16-team district 3 meet. The field events will be held Wednesday, May 22, followed by the running preliminaries Thursday, May 23, and the running finals Saturday, May 25.
The top four finishers in each district event advance to the regional meet May 29 and 31 at Pickerington North.
Last season, the boys team competed in district 1 and had seven regional qualifiers, including senior Nic Eader in the discus and shot put, senior Ethan George in the 300-meter hurdles, senior Jake Sanders in the shot put and junior Hunter Holton in the high jump. Holton won the district title in the high jump by clearing 6 feet, 5 inches.
Qualifying for regional out of district 2 last year for the girls team were sophomore Josie Woosley in the 800, senior Stephanie Robb in the 400, senior Veda Durbin in the 3,200, sophomore Kara Robinson in the 100 hurdles and the 3,200 relay of Woosley, Robb, Durbin and 2012 graduate Mara White.
The 3,200 relay won the district title in 9 minutes, 44.87 seconds and went on to place 14th at state (9:38.15). Also at state, Woosley finished 12th in the 800 (2:18.1).
Watkins Memorial competed in the OCC-Capital meet May 16 and 18 at Hilliard Bradley.