The Licking County Settlers wooden-bat baseball team returned only four players from a year ago when it won the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship, but second-year coach Andy Revell believes his roster has a lot of potential.
The Settlers were 7-4 after beating the Lake Erie Monarchs 4-1 on June 19.
"It would've been nice to have more of that group back," Revell said. "On the other hand, this group is hungry to win and live up to last year's accomplishments. As a coach, it is rewarding to start fresh with a new group and see what you can teach them and how much you can help them elevate their game.
"We have four or five guys who have all-star potential and will definitely have good summers. We have some local guys who have been amazing thus far and we've got real strong pitching. Our goals as an organization are to see individual growth as players and young men and to have a great summer experience. That's what summer ball is in a nutshell."
The Settlers, who play their home games at Don Edwards Park in Newark, finished 29-16 overall last summer after going 24-23 in 2011 and 31-13 in 2010. They finished the regular season 24-15 a year ago, tying the Cincinnati Steam and the Lima Locos for first in the GLSCL standings.
In the GLSCL playoffs, Licking County beat the Locos two games to one in the best-of-three semifinal series before sweeping the Steam in the best-of-three championship series, winning 5-3 in the first game and 6-2 in the second.
"The most exciting thing about things so far this year is that we're scratching out some wins and we haven't really begun putting things together offensively," said Newark High School graduate Ryan Huber, an infielder and one of the returnees for the Settlers. "We're not close to playing our best yet. We're getting great pitching and we've been pretty solid defensively. We just haven't jelled on offense."
Huber hit a key RBI double and scored one of six runs in the eighth inning of the championship-winning game against the Steam last year. He also hit a three-run home run in a 12-2 win in the decisive third game against the Locos.
"Last year was the most fun I've ever had playing baseball," said Huber, who had a .366 batting average this spring playing for Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., but plans to transfer to a yet-to-be-determined college this fall. "(The celebration after the championship-winning game) was my first dog pile and a real blast.
"I think we definitely have the talent to win it again this year. Once we start hitting the ball, we'll be ready to take off."
The other returnees are infielder Matt Parisi and relief pitchers Connor Murphy and Thomas Olson. Parisi and Olson both play for Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and Murphy plays for Denison University.
Huber is one of five area products on the Settlers' roster. The others are pitchers Jimmy Lough (Newark Catholic) and Charles Cooper (Upper Arlington, Ohio Wesleyan), outfielder Matt Smith (Johnstown, Bowling Green) and catcher Woody Wallace (Olentangy, University of Cincinnati).
Lough played for Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., this spring but will play for Ohio State next spring.
Murphy, a native of Winnetka, Ill., is one of three Denison players on the roster, joining pitcher Ian Barry of Millburn, N.J., and infielder Ryan Mulligan of Raleigh, N.C.
"I'm honored to play with the Settlers," said Lough, who had a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings in his first two starts this season. "The caliber of players we have and the caliber of our competition is better than I anticipated and has me motivated to do well for my teammates."
The GLSCL has dropped from 11 teams to 10, as the Stark County Terriers have suspended operations. The league includes the Dayton Docs, the Grand Lake Mariners (Celina), the Hamilton Joes, the Southern Ohio Copperheads (Athens), the Xenia Scouts, the Lake Erie Monarchs (Carleton, Mich.) and the Lexington (Ky.) Hustlers.
The Monarchs play their home games in Maumee and the Hustlers' home field is in Georgetown, Ky.