On paper, the Licking Heights High School baseball team appears to be entering a new era at an inopportune time.

On paper, the Licking Heights High School baseball team appears to be entering a new era at an inopportune time.

The Hornets are coming off one of their most productive seasons, but lost six players to graduation. They will play a more difficult schedule in the LCL and also are moving up to Division I in the postseason.

"This will be a challenging and fun season," said 34th-year coach Jeff Boyer, whose team opens Monday, March 31, against visiting Utica in a league game. "This is our toughest schedule since 1984 when we left the LCL, plus our non-league schedule is difficult and we're moving up to Division I.

"It's a shame that the LCL didn't come about until this year (considering) the amount of experience we had the past few seasons."

Among the graduation losses were Andrew Bailey, Ronnie Dawson and Jake Foley.

Dawson, a four-year starter who is playing at Ohio State, set program records a year ago for home runs (14) and RBI (51) in a season while batting .578. Dawson, who played second base, was MSL-Cardinal Division Player of the Year for the second season in a row and Division II district Player of the Year.

Foley (SS/P) set a season record for runs (44) while batting .543 with 34 RBI and a .673 on-base percentage from his leadoff position. Foley and Bailey (3B), both three-year starters, were honorable mention all-district.

They helped the Hornets finish 20-5 overall. Licking Heights failed to win its third consecutive league title, finishing 11-3 to tie Fisher Catholic for second behind Liberty Union (12-2).

"It'll be a different season for all of us," Boyer said. "I've got to get back to coaching because for three years now we've kind of just penciled in the lineup, set our rotation and been solid. We'll be doing more coaching and moving of pieces. But the cupboard is far from empty."

There are seven returnees, all seniors, in Chuck Aitken (CF), Blake Beaver (3B/OF), Jacob Brandwein (LHP/1B), Jacob Kayser (C), Luke Langkamp (LHP/1B), Eric Strubar (2B/OF/RHP) and Dakotah Waller (utility).

Kayser (.347, 8 home runs, 35 RBI) and Langkamp (7-0, 1.43 ERA in 34 1/3 innings) were second-team all-league last season and Brandwein (8-1, 3.50 ERA in 36 innings) was honorable mention all-league.

Aitken was injured and missed the majority of last season.

Senior Austin Pond (C/RHP) was with the program previously but did not play last season.

Expected to join the senior-laden lineup are sophomores Gabe Caldwell (2B/RHP) and Nate Fackler (SS).

Boyer said joining Langkamp and Brandwein as core pitchers will be junior Zach Fox (RHP/3B) and Caldwell. Pond also is expected to be a reliever.

Also competing for action are juniors Cody Knight (RHP/OF), Derrick Sellito (OF) and Devin Stanley (OF).

"With the LCL being such a really, really tough baseball league, there will be no 'gimmes' so our pitching depth is much more important than it has been in past years," Boyer said. "There isn't a team in this league that doesn't have at least some good players. ...

"The good thing about the LCL is it will give us a better chance to develop things in the long haul because they all have j.v. teams. Only a few in the MSL had j.v. teams and some weren't very good."

Softball team young,yet experienced

Despite losing four four-year starters, the softball team expects another strong season after going 20-8 overall.

"This team has several players who have seen time on the varsity field and will be able to provide much needed leadership with the graduation of those four-year starters," third-year coach Bo Ramsey said. "Kelsi Wilson will return for her fourth year in the circle. (She has) over 60 games pitched to help bring maturity to a young program."

Cassidy Cochrum (3B), Alyssa Stanley (SS), Brynna Fetter (2B) and Emily Wander (1B) not only provided leadership, but the 2013 graduates were the Hornets' top four hitters. Stanley and Cochrum were first-team all-league and Wander was second-team all-league a year ago as the Hornets finished third (10-4) in the MSL-Cardinal behind co-champions Liberty Union and West Jefferson (13-1).

Wilson, who also was second-team all-league, is joined as a returning starter by juniors Kelsey Hoar (LF) and Georganna Pendexter (1B/3B/C) and sophomore Caitlin Aitken (RF). Pendexter is moving from full-time catcher, as senior Kait Dunbrack takes those duties this year. Hoar and Pendexter were honorable mention all-league last season, along with Fetter.

Juniors Myrissa Stalter (OF) and Kayla Myrthil (SS) also return. Myrthil was injured and missed last season.

Rounding out the roster are freshmen Madison Bridger (CF), Jessica Gunter (3B/P), Cearra Smith (2B) and Hanna Wilson (utility/OF).

Gunter is the team's No. 2 pitcher.

"We have quite a few girls who play competitive summer ball," said Ramsey, whose team opens Monday, March 31, against visiting Utica in a league game. "We may seem like a young team, but we have experience and the girls are fearless.

"We expect to have strong hitting throughout the lineup. Power will come from Dunbrack, Hoar and Pendexter. Kelsi Wilson, Myrthil, Aitken and Stalter all bring versatility with a combination of speed and the ability to put the ball in play every at-bat."

Ramsey said with the amount of new players and experienced players competing at different positions, communication and teamwork will determine the Hornets' success. But he also realizes the challenges of competing in the LCL, as well as in the Division I postseason.

"Licking Valley, Granville, Newark Catholic, Lakewood and Heath are traditional powers with strong teams in Johnstown, Northridge, Watkins (Memorial) and Utica," he said. "There are 10 teams in this league and the No. 10 team (in the standings) could easily win a couple postseason games. The depth of talent in the LCL is scary."