A seven-run deficit after the first inning of his team's first scrimmage didn't faze DeSales High School baseball coach Tom Neubert, whose team is the two-time defending Division II state champion.
If such a poor start takes place in April or May, he'll be concerned. But the sixth-year coach was pleased by a gritty comeback March 22 in an 11-10 loss at Bloom-Carroll, a Division III regional runner-up last year.
"We should have given up one run, then we booted some balls (committing four errors) and extended the inning and they started hitting the ball," said Neubert, whose team finished 26-6 overall last year. "The best thing for me is I'm seeing improvement already. You're seeing guys get comfortable in a game instead of worrying about who knows what. The reason they're on the varsity at St. Francis DeSales is because they're a talented group."
DeSales has five seniors this season in Andy Bennett (OF), Colin Madigan (INF), Alex Perrine (P/CF), Richard Reis (C/INF) and Bryce Roten (P/INF). The Stallions had 12 seniors a year ago when they beat Wapakoneta 3-2 in the state final at Huntington Park after winning the 2011 state title without any seniors.
The projected top pitcher is junior Bryan Stopar, who went 3-2 in six starts last year, posting a 2.15 ERA in 26 innings.
The Stallions opened April 1 against Wheelersburg with 17 players on varsity, a slight increase from the 14 or 15 that Neubert usually carries.
"Pretty much everything is all up for grabs," said Perrine, who hit .310 last year and appeared in five games as a pitcher, recording a 1.11 ERA in 11 innings. "(The newcomers will) learn what it takes to win after a few weeks."
Rounding out the roster are juniors Nicolas Danner (INF), Connor Golden (P/OF), Sean Hoban (INF/P), Aaron Kienzle (OF/P), Keagan Lipak (C/INF), Charlie Stack (P/INF) and Justin Thompson (OF) and sophomores Justin Borghese (INF/P), Grant Howard (C/P), Mitchell Saunders (P/utility) and D.J. Strapp (OF/P).
Last season, DeSales won the CCL championship, going 7-1 to finish ahead of Watterson (6-2), St. Charles (5-3), Ready (2-6) and Hartley (0-8). Seeded first in the district, the Stallions had a first-round bye and defeated Beechcroft 13-0 in the second round and Bexley 8-0 in a semifinal before edging third-seeded Big Walnut 2-1 in a district final.
DeSales then defeated Bellefontaine 8-7 in 11 innings in a regional semifinal, Cincinnati Wyoming 3-0 in a regional final and Mentor Lake Catholic 3-0 in a state semifinal to reach the state final.
DeSales has seven consecutive road games to start the season before its home opener April 16 against Fisher Catholic. Its league opener is April 17 at St. Charles.
"I think (the players) feel urgency because they're playing varsity at St. Francis DeSales," Neubert said. "They know what expectations are. They've been sitting in the background for a while and now it's their turn. What will they provide to this program and how will they make it grow?"
Softball team hopes to thrive on versatility
Eighth-year softball coach Julie Barber is hoping for a lack of predictability as her team seeks its fourth consecutive CCL championship and fifth district title in seven years.
Third baseman Anna Gentile, a fourth-year starter, leads a group of four seniors that also consists of Katie King (OF), Kate Miltko (P) and Allison Rodriguez (2B/OF).
"The best part about this group is the flexibility they give us in the lineup," said Barber, whose team finished 22-8 overall last year, losing to Logan Elm 7-3 in a Division II regional semifinal. "We can play multiple athletes at multiple positions. Both the infield and outfield will show a few different looks during the season based on the type of pitching we are facing.
"Pitching will probably be done by committee. For the past few years, we have sort of relied on one 'ace' to throw the majority of our games. This year, each of our three pitchers (Miltko, sophomore Emily Piatt and junior Kristine Bynum) brings a unique look and we feel that we can benefit from using them all."
Bynum also is expected to see time at first base and second base.
Rounding out the team are juniors Chloe Biskner (1B), Catie Woods (OF) and Lizzie Zehala (OF), sophomores Maddie DeMuesy (C), Taylor Freeman (OF/SS) and Jessie Hamilton (C) and freshman Leah Roten (SS).
Last season, DeSales went 6-0 in the CCL, finishing ahead of Hartley (4-2), Ready (1-5) and Watterson (1-5). The top seed in the district tournament, the Stallions defeated Independence 11-1 in the first round, Bexley 10-0 in the second round and Amanda-Clearcreek 14-2 in a semifinal before beating Hartley 13-4 in a district final.
The Stallions opened April 2 at Perrysburg and their home opener is Thursday, April 4, against Big Walnut. They begin league play April 15 against Watterson at Ridgeview Middle School.
"We believe there are certain absolutes for every DeSales team that comes through our program -- aggressive play, enthusiasm and a commitment to get better every day," Barber said. "If they stay on track, I think you will see great things from this group."
Increased numbers for volleyball team
Fifth-year boys volleyball coach Andy Feltz loved having a crowded gym during tryouts, as a program-record 30 players participated.
"We have a nice mix of returning players and some multi-sport guys who wanted to come out," said Feltz, whose team opens Thursday, April 4, at Licking Heights. "A lot of them played club volleyball and got in the weight room during the offseason. The success we had last year wasn't extraordinary, but it was enough to draw a lot of interest around the school. The guys are really enjoying themselves."
Without a senior last year, the Stallions started 6-0 and finished 12-9 overall, losing to Dublin Scioto 25-23, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21 in the first round of the Division II East Region Tournament. DeSales went 5-3 in the Central Ohio Volleyball League, tying St. Charles for second behind Watterson (8-0) and ahead of Whetstone (2-6) and Licking Heights (0-8).
This year, the Stallions are competing in the CCL with St. Charles and Watterson. Their league opener is Tuesday, April 9, at Watterson.
The roster consists of seniors Nick Clarke (outside hitter), Michael Hippler (right-side hitter) and Sean Walsh (libero), juniors Keegan Crawford (setter), Josh Van Cuyk (middle hitter) and Hunter Walsh (middle hitter) and sophomores Jordan Brooks (defensive specialist), Evan Feltz (outside hitter), Zach Grennan (outside hitter) and Luke Melsop (middle hitter).
Feltz was named first-team all-COVL and first-team all-region last year. Brooks and Clarke were second-team all-league and Hippler was honorable mention all-league. Clarke also was second-team all-region.