In his 24th season with more than 300 career wins, Northland High School coach Dean Washington learned long ago about how not being prepared can affect a baseball team.

In his 24th season with more than 300 career wins, Northland High School coach Dean Washington learned long ago about how not being prepared can affect a baseball team.

With few players who spend time working on the game year-round, he constantly has stressed the need for them to improve their "baseball IQ."

Having that focus, combined with what Washington believes could be a strong senior class, could determine whether the Vikings can have an impact on the City League-North Division race.

Northland opened last Tuesday against Brookhaven and played Beechcroft last Wednesday. Its next game is April 12 against visiting Linden-McKinley.

"If you're in the moment in baseball, it's too late," Washington said. "We just don't have a lot of kids with a lot of baseball savvy. (The seniors) can be a stabilizing force to help them be successful because we're trying to build a program."

The Vikings have one player whom they likely can depend on in senior Chris Mitko, who signed with Youngstown State last November. He will be the No. 1 pitcher and also hit better than .600 last season as the Vikings finished 13-6 overall.

The other returning seniors are Devon Crudup (2B/SS/OF), Chrys Gaines (OF) and Anthony Peoples (1B/3B). Peoples also might serve as the No. 2 starting pitcher.

Juniors Joe Iacobucci (C), Corey Johnson (IF/P) and Ron Johnson (IF/OF/P) and sophomores Manthony Brown (P) and Julius White are other returnees.

Freshmen Wade Beightler (SS/C/P), Xavier Conner and Clayton Pea are newcomers who could contribute.

Northland, which tied Centennial for second at 12-2 behind Whetstone (13-1) in the City-North two seasons ago, went 10-4 last season in the league to finish behind the Braves (14-0) and Stars (12-2). The Vikings beat Columbus West 14-8 in the first round of the Division I tournament before falling to second-seeded Gahanna 16-0 in a second-round game.

Northland lost seven players to graduation, including Sam Belisle, who is playing for Denison University, and Ben Washington, the coach's son who is playing for Northern Kentucky.

"(Mitko has) taken pitching lessons all fall and winter, and he's just the consummate team player," Washington said. "What we need is more senior leadership like that."

•The boys tennis team returns several players with experience as it looks to stay in the mix for the City League championship.

Unlike other spring sports, each of the City's boys tennis teams will compete in one division and will face every team once during the regular season. The City championship will be played between the teams which finish first and second, regardless of their traditional division alignment.

Last season, Northland finished third at 4-2 in the City-North behind Whetstone and Centennial (5-1). The Stars then beat West 4-1 in the City final. There will not be a City individual tournament as in past years.

Northland opened with a 5-0 loss to Centennial last Monday and played Briggs last Wednesday. Its next match is April 12 at Whetstone.

"They've all been working hard, hitting the ball and working on their serves and returns," coach Allen Jarrett said. "It should be interesting since we have Centennial, Briggs and Whetstone as our first three matches."

Sophomore Alejandro Nunez is moving to No. 1 singles after playing mostly doubles last year. Junior Daniel Smith is expected to take over at second singles and junior Austin Miller will play third singles.

Junior Eric Crabtree and freshman Michael Allen will be at first doubles, with senior Marc Moody and sophomore Chris Boyno at second doubles. Junior Vinny Chanthavong and freshman Viet Nguyen are others vying for playing time.

Rob Dove (No. 1 singles), Bruce Allen (No. 2 singles) and Donovan Dean (second doubles) graduated.

"With my top three singles players, I think we'll be pretty good," Jarrett said. "I always enjoy my guys and I hope they enjoy me. We always have a good time out there. I'm anxious to get started."

•The girls track and field teams opened last Saturday by winning the five-team Licking Heights Invitational with 134 points while the boys were third behind Newark and the host Hornets.

Both teams competed last Tuesday at Hamilton Township and will travel Saturday in the Newark Invitational.

•The softball team opened last Tuesday against Brookhaven, played Beechcroft last Wednesday and will play host to Grove City Christian in a doubleheader Saturday and to Worthington Christian on Tuesday.

•SULLINGER HONORED -- Northland senior boys basketball player Jared Sullinger added to his list of accolades on March 24 when he was named Ohio's Mr. Basketball for the second consecutive year.

After traveling to Atlanta earlier in the day to pick up his Naismith National Player of the Year award, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound post player was unanimously selected Mr. Basketball by the Associated Press. An Ohio State University signee, Sullinger averaged 23 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 76 percent from the floor this season.

Sullinger also has been named ThisWeek's Super 12 Captain for the second consecutive year after leading the Vikings to a 23-1 record and Division I regional runner-up finish.