The Centennial High School baseball team will be starting the season with only three healthy returning starters in its lineup.
The Stars return five starters overall in seniors Christian Cumberlander (1B/P), Josh McFann (C/P), Matthew Puhlick (CF) and Conrad Stephens (3B) and sophomore Gus Ricksecker (SS/P).
However, Stephens is expected to miss most, if not all, of the season with a knee injury and Cumberlander, who was the team's top pitcher a year ago, is out indefinitely with a wrist injury.
Centennial, which finished 11-14 overall last season after losing to Caledonia River Valley 9-2 in the first round of the Division II district tournament, opens Tuesday, April 2, at Westerville North.
"This is one of the younger teams I've had, but that's made our practices more competitive," seventh-year Scott Kirby said. "We've only been able to practice outdoors two days in our first four weeks of practice and we're all looking forward to the weather improving. But some years, when the kids think they already have their varsity spots locked up, they get sick of practicing in the gym and they don't work as hard. This year, with so many varsity positions up for grabs, the kids have all been working a little harder because they want to earn their place on our team."
Junior Matt Brownfield is expected to start at second base and pitch after serving as a backup catcher last year, and junior Blake Harrington and sophomore Cole Murray are vying to start at third base.
Competing for starting positions in the outfield are seniors Eric Cofer-Wilson, Ronald Phillips and P.J. Rodgers, junior Justin Taylor and sophomore Luke Burton.
McFann likely will be the No. 1 pitcher until Cumberlander returns.
Last season, McFann went 4-1 on the mound with a 2.18 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings and had 15 RBI and 23 runs and was named second-team all-league, Stephens batted .407 and Cumberlander hit .386 with 21 RBI and 26 runs.
"I think we're going to have a strong infield with a lot of experienced players filling in there," Kirby said. "We've got a lot of good athletes playing in the outfield. We just need to develop their talent."
Despite their inexperience, Kirby is hoping the Stars can contend for the City League-North Division championship. Last season, they went 11-3 in the league to tie Northland for second behind Whetstone (14-0).
Centennial begins league play April 8 at home against Columbus East.
"The City-North is probably going to come down to us and Whetstone and possibly Northland," Kirby said. "Whetstone has a young team, too, so it's going to depend on which of us matures more quickly."
Softball team hopes to contend for City title
The softball team returns seven starters from last season, when it finished 14-9 overall, placed second in the City-North and won a Division II district tournament game.
The returning starters are seniors Haylee Carter (P) and Mary Gardner (C), juniors Alyah Dean (SS), Maya Robertson (OF) and Alex Wells (OF) and sophomores Emilija Erenpreiss (2B) and Natalie Thies (P/1B).
Last season, Dean batted .441 with 21 RBI and 22 runs and was first-team all-league and Thies hit .431 with a team-high eight doubles, 19 RBI and 17 runs and went 7-5 in the circle with a 1.37 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings and was second-team all-league.
Carter hit .357 with 10 RBI and 25 runs and was 7-4 with a 4.31 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings and Robertson batted .345 with a team-high 23 RBI and 19 runs. Both were honorable mention all-league.
Junior Aryn Brnusak, who is a transfer from DeSales, is expected to start at first base and sophomore Micaela Roper and freshman Alyssa Dean are vying for a starting spot in the outfield.
Alyssa Dean and freshman Molly Brumfield could see time at catcher and junior Vanessa Vargo is a utility player.
"We have a lot more experience than we had last year," said second-year coach Malik Dean, who is the father of Alyah and Alyssa. "Our offense is definitely more consistent than it was last year and we're working hard on our defense. Last year, we gave up 150 runs and only 50 of them were earned, so we know we've got to get better."
Centennial opens April 6 against host Wellington and Millersport and begins league play April 8 at home against East.
Last season, the Stars went 12-2 in the City-North to finish behind Whetstone (14-0) and beat Columbus South 15-1 in five innings in the first round of the district tournament behind a no-hitter by Carter.
Centennial lost to third-seeded Licking Valley 11-1 in five innings in the second round.
"Our big goals are to win the City and to get a couple more wins in the district tournament," coach Dean said. "It looks like it's going to be a two-horse race between Whetstone and us, but Northland and Beechcroft have some strong players, too, so we'll need to play well against those teams as well."