How the Olentangy Liberty High School baseball team fares likely will depend on its pitching staff.

How the Olentangy Liberty High School baseball team fares likely will depend on its pitching staff.

The Patriots return only one pitcher with significant varsity experience from last season, when they finished 13-9 overall and went 6-4 in the OCC-Capital Division to tie Dublin Scioto for third behind New Albany (8-2) and Watkins Memorial (8-2) and ahead of Franklin Heights (2-8) and Big Walnut (0-10).

Liberty lost to Upper Arlington 6-3 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

"Our pitching is going to be inexperienced this year," said sixth-year coach Matt Lattig, whose team will open Tuesday at home against Watterson and will play host to Dublin Coffman on Wednesday. "Our pitchers have live arms and they like to compete, but how will they handle it when they're challenged? That's the question."

Liberty returned eight letterwinners in seniors Andrew Eckhardt (OF), Cale Garverick (1B/OF), Jordy Martin (C), John Merlina (OF) and Tommy Waterwash (2B/P) and juniors Josh Dezse (1B/3B/P), Zach Michael (SS/P) and Michael O'Neill (OF/P).

Merlina (.409, 8 RBI, 21 runs, 10 stolen bases), Dezse (.406, 9 RBI, 6 runs), Michael (.313, 16 RBI, 15 runs), Eckhardt (.295, 15 RBI, 15 runs, 9 stolen bases), O'Neill (.279, 15 RBI, 12 runs) and Martin (.262, 9 RBI, 14 runs) were among the offensive leaders last year. Merlina was second-team all-district and first-team all-league and Martin made second-team all-league.

Also on the team are senior Justin Allen (1B/OF/P), juniors Stephen Crea (2B/3B), Blake Hampshire (1B/OF/P), Tanner Pontius (3B/1B/P) and Tyler Stage (3B/1B/P) and sophomore Michael Fries (3B/1B/P).

Waterwash is the most experienced varsity pitcher, having pitched 8 2/3 innings last season as a reliever and going 0-1 with one save and a 1.68 ERA. He pitched 18 2/3 innings in 2007, going 2-2 with three saves and a 2.63 ERA.

The only other pitchers with varsity experience are Fries, Michael and O'Neill, but none has thrown more than five innings.

"Offensively, I think we're ahead of where we were at this time last year," Lattig said. "We have seven or eight guys that have 30 or 40 at-bats at the varsity level. We also have always played good defense, so I think our pitchers will have some help. Those things are going to have to go hand in hand."

The Patriots lost four pitchers from last season, three of whom graduated and one of whom did not return. The key graduation loss was Ryan Cypret, a four-year varsity player and Ohio State signee who underwent ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in his right elbow in December 2007 and appeared in only six games last season as a pinch runner and designated hitter and had just seven at-bats.

"The seniors last year were very talented, but we have a lot of core guys back," Waterwash said.

Liberty now is in the OCC-Cardinal with Olentangy, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Marysville, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South. The Patriots open league play April 3 at home against Marysville.

"I think it's going to be great," Lattig said. "It will be really interesting to see how things shake out. I believe the league is up for grabs."

At a glance

•Coach: Matt Lattig, sixth season

•Opener: Tuesday vs. Watterson

•Key players: Andrew Eckhardt, Jordy Martin, John Merlina, Zach Michael, Michael O'Neill and Tommy Waterwash