Chances are few people outside of the Olentangy High School baseball program figured that the Braves would be a serious contender for the OCC-Cardinal Division championship, given not just the quantity of players from a year ago that were lost to graduation, but the quality of those players.

Chances are few people outside of the Olentangy High School baseball program figured that the Braves would be a serious contender for the OCC-Cardinal Division championship, given not just the quantity of players from a year ago that were lost to graduation, but the quality of those players.

But despite losing five starters and two other players who split time as a starter, the Braves are in the hunt for their third consecutive OCC-Cardinal title. Entering their game last Tuesday against Westerville South they were 4-2 in the league, one-half game behind leader Worthington Kilbourne and one-half game ahead of Pickerington Central.

Olentangy defeated Kilbourne 1-0 in 10 innings April 21 and Central 6-5 on April 15. The Braves played the Tigers again last Wednesday and will play their second game against the Wolves on Wednesday at Kilbourne.

"I think we have chance to do it," infielder and pitcher Michael Duffy said. "We did our job at home. It's just a matter of going out and doing it on the road."

Much of Olentangy's success can be traced to its pitching staff, particularly Duffy and Jordan Kuhn.

Duffy allowed four hits over 10 innings against Kilbourne and pitched a complete game in the win over Central. Kuhn gave up six hits in a 4-1 win over South on April 9 and allowed two hits in a 2-0 win over Dublin Jerome on April 23.

"They're our two main guys," coach Steve Little said. "When they're on the mound, we've got a pretty good shot of winning."

Duffy said the loss of many of the team's top hitters from a year ago means there is a greater emphasis on pitching this year. In addition to Duffy and Kuhn, the pitching staff is comprised of Justin Johnson, Scott Minard, Matt Pollock, Justin Wackerman and Patrick Westerlund.

"We don't have as many big bats this year, so we rely a lot on our pitching," Duffy said. "If we hold an opponent to a low run total, we know we have a chance to win."

Olentangy, which lost five of its first seven but had won four of its last six entering last Tuesday, has fielded a lineup steeped in an offensive talent in the last two years. Last season, the Braves batted .324 as a team and scored 200 runs in 25 games. In 2006, the Braves hit .333 and scored 237 runs in 33 games.

But through 13 games this season, Olentangy was hitting .245 and had scored 51 runs.

Among the top hitters were Kuhn (.375, 11 RBI, 5 runs), Duffy (.357, 6 RBI, 8 runs), catcher Paul Boals (.304), Johnson (.268, 5 RBI, 4 runs) and center-fielder Cory Joe (.263, 5 RBI, 5 runs). David Johnston, a backup outfielder, was hitting .429 with four RBI and three runs in limited action.

"We started out a little slow, but things have been picking up and our hitting is starting to come around," Little said.

Duffy said the team continues to improve in all facets of the game.

"I think we were struggling a little early because we're a little inexperienced," he said. "We have a lot of younger players. We also had a lot of rainouts. We couldn't get things going, we couldn't get into a rhythm.

"We can see younger guys making plays that they weren't making early in the season. It was like they weren't quite sure what to do. Maybe they were afraid of making mistakes. But now they're just reacting and playing the way they know how."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Liberty and Olentangy baseball teams:

LIBERTY

*April 23 -- Lost to New Albany 12-7

Last Friday -- Lost to Hilliard Darby 4-0

Last Saturday -- Games against Westerville South and Westerville Central postponed

*Last Monday -- Lost to Watkins Memorial 2-0

*Last Wednesday -- Played Big Walnut

Today -- At Worthington Kilbourne

Saturday -- Home vs. Newark

*Monday -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto. The Patriots won 22-6 on April 16.

*Wednesday -- At Franklin Heights. The Patriots won 7-5 on April 21.

Of note: The Patriots were 9-8 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Capital before last Wednesday.

*OCC-Capital game

OLENTANGY

April 22 -- Defeated Jonathan Alder 11-4

*April 23 -- Def. Dublin Jerome 2-0

April 24 -- Lost to Newark 12-8

Saturday -- Lost to Twinsburg 6-1; def. Twinsburg 5-4 in eight innings

*Last Monday -- Game against Westerville South postponed to last Tuesday

*Last Tuesday -- Played South

*Last Wednesday -- Played Pickerington Central

Friday -- At Delaware

*Monday -- Home vs. Mount Vernon. The Braves lost 15-8 on April 16.

*Wednesday -- At Worthington Kilbourne. The Braves won 1-0 in 10 innings April 21.

Of note: The Braves were 6-7 overall and 4-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Cardinal game