Even though defense was the Centennial High School softball team's biggest weakness each of the past two seasons, coach Malik Dean is expecting it to be the Stars' strength this year.
Centennial gave up 53 unearned runs and 40 earned runs while going 16-5 overall last season, after giving up 105 unearned runs and 50 earned runs in 23 games the previous season.
The Stars also made four errors in a 17-5 loss to Bexley in five innings in the first round of last year's Division II district tournament.
"Our strength this year should be our defense," Dean said. "We have experience at every position. What I mean by that is we have a player who has played at the varsity level or played travel softball in the summer. Hopefully, that experience will increase our softball IQ and we will make (fewer) errors in the field, which hurt us when we play good teams."
The Stars' opening games March 29 against Bexley and Madison Christian were postponed. Their opener in the City League-North Division was March 31 at Northland.
Six starters have returned in seniors Aryn Brnusak (1B) and Alyah Dean (SS), juniors Emily Erenpreiss (2B), Micaela Roper (RF) and Natalie Thies (P/1B) and sophomore Molly Brumfield (C/LF).
Brumfield batted .508 with two home runs, 37 RBI and 37 runs last season. She was first-team all-league and all-district.
Brnusak, who batted .527 with two home runs, 20 RBI and 26 runs, was second-team all-league.
Erenpreiss batted .429 with two home runs, 32 RBI and 33 runs, and Thies batted .368 with 22 RBI and 21 runs. Both were honorable mention all-league.
Roper batted .346 with 12 RBI and 14 runs.
Despite having those players back, coach Dean said his team will miss 2013 graduates Haylee Carter (P) and Mary Gardner (C/LF).
Carter went 8-4 with a 2.99 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 68 innings last season and was first-team all-league. She also batted .493 with 41 runs and a .686 on-base percentage.
Gardner batted .302 with two home runs and 22 RBI.
"This year's team is different from last year's team because we will begin the season with only one returning, experienced pitcher," said coach Dean, who is in his third season. "My first two years we had the luxury of having two pitchers to lighten the load. This year we may need to lean on (Thies) unless we can find someone else to pitch some innings."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Victoria Evans (3B/2B) and Mais Shafeek (utility), juniors Jackie Levine (C/OF), Kelsie O'Leary (2B/OF) and Julianna Sa (OF), sophomores Alyssa Dean (utility), Sidney Stephens (3B/1B/P) and Taryn Wells (C) and freshmen Katie Conroy (3B) and Alexis Thompson (OF).
Alyah Dean and Erenpreiss are captains.
"Alyah and Alyssa Dean will play together for the first time at Centennial for their dad," coach Dean said. "Alyah will be a four-year varsity starter and is returning after a season-ending knee injury last year."
The Stars opened last season by winning their first eight games, but they were swept by Whetstone in City-North play, losing 5-3 and 7-6 on the way to finishing second (12-2) in the league behind the Braves (14-0).
"Our goals each year are to win City and win games in the (postseason)," coach Dean said. "In winning the City we must first beat Whetstone, who we have not beaten (the past) two years.
"Whetstone will battle us for a league title. Beechcroft, Northland and Brookhaven, I think, will be improved. If we don't come out to play every game the outcome we expect will not happen."
Baseball team aiming for City title
The baseball team features five returning starters in seniors Blake Harrington (2B) and Jimmy Martinez (RF/P) and juniors Luke Burton (LF), Cole Murray (C) and Gus Ricksecker (SS/P).
With those players leading the way, Centennial finished 14-11 overall last season. The Stars opened the Division II district tournament with a 7-1 loss to Buckeye Valley.
Ricksecker, who batted .366 with 21 stolen bases and 31 runs, was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league a year ago. He also went 4-5 with a 3.96 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 46 innings.
Martinez had a home run and 18 RBI, and went 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 24 innings. Murray had a home run and 27 RBI.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Adam Eberly (C/1B/OF), Shareef Fall (OF/P) and Phil Pezzatta (3B), sophomores Gimmy Martinez (P/1B), Jimmy Matney (INF/P), Austin Shearer (P/OF) and Elgin White (INF/OF) and freshman Jackson Rudoff (P/INF).
"We have a very balanced team, offensively," said first-year coach Mitch Fleisher, who was Columbus South's coach last season. "We have strong pitching and strong defense. I'd like to see our pitchers remain consistent and go further in games. If they do that, we should do well as a team."
The Stars will attempt to end Whetstone's two-year reign atop the City-North standings. Centennial was swept by Whetstone last season, losing 16-3 and 10-1, and finished second (12-2) in the league behind the Braves (14-0).
"It always comes down to Whetstone and us for the City championship," said Fleischer, whose team opened March 31 with a league game at Northland.