Ryan Lucas is in transition.
Not only is the Olentangy High School baseball coach in his first season, but he is dealing with life as a new parent by helping care for his son Grayson, who was born last month.
"I'm fortunate to have a good staff to help out," Lucas said. "I wouldn't be able to do this without them."
Lucas replaced Steve Little, who stepped down after 11 years.
The Braves return five starters from last season, when they finished 19-10 overall and won their second consecutive league championship and their first Division I district title since 2006. Those players are seniors Griffin Binkley (OF/P), Christian Brett (SS/OF, .318 batting average) and Casey Stanley (P/3B, 1.57 ERA) and juniors Tim Feasel (OF/2B) and Jacob Kaylor (1B/P, .306 batting average, 3.08 ERA).
"We only have a few guys back with varsity experience," said Lucas, who was an assistant at Liberty Township Lakota East from 2006-12. "Casey Stanley is back as our No. 1 (pitcher), and we'll be looking to develop two or three more starters. We'll be looking to our veteran guys to fill those roles."
Also on the team are seniors Brent Bishop (OF), Trent Boucher (INF) and Luke Hartline (C), juniors Anthony Allocco (OF/P), Austin Moore (INF) and Case Troyer (1B/3B/P) and sophomores Donal Baker (P/1B/OF), Drew Batt (INF), Nick Emery (P/3B/OF), Grant Helber (P/OF) and Joe McGuinness (C).
Olentangy, which opened March 30 by beating Westerville Central 8-0 and 4-3, went 10-4 in the OCC-Cardinal Division last year, finishing ahead of Dublin Jerome (9-5), Marysville (8-5), Westerville North (8-6), Liberty (7-7), Westerville Central (7-7), Dublin Scioto (6-7) and Westerville South (0-14).
The Braves have moved to the OCC-Capital, which was won by Big Walnut last season and also includes Orange, Delaware, Franklin Heights, Mount Vernon, New Albany and Watkins Memorial.
Olentangy opens league play Monday, April 8, at Big Walnut.
Seeded ninth in the district last year, the Braves had a first-round bye and defeated Scioto 9-1 in the second round, St. Charles 9-3 in a semifinal and Gahanna 5-3 in a final before losing to top-ranked Grove City 11-1 in five innings in a regional semifinal.
"Our kids have bought into what we want to do," Lucas said. "From the varsity down to the freshmen and even in the middle school and youth leagues, the kids have been positive and it's been an extremely good situation."
Juniors expected to lead way for Patriots
Liberty returns five starters from last season, when it finished 13-15 overall, tied for fifth in the OCC-Cardinal and beat Westland 9-0 in the first round of the Division I district tournament before losing to 10th-seeded Jerome 6-5 in the second round.
The Patriots have moved to the OCC-Central, which was won by Thomas Worthington last season and also includes Central Crossing, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Davidson, Marysville, Upper Arlington and Westland.
Their league opener is Monday, April 8, at Central Crossing.
The returning starters are senior Alec Snider (OF), juniors Jacob Griffiths (3B/P), Danny Kirchner (SS) and Matt Matthaes (C) and sophomore Cameron Comer (SS/C).
Last season, Comer had a team-high .449 batting average with nine doubles, 17 runs, 19 RBI and four stolen bases and was second-team all-district and all-league. Snider hit .262 with 14 runs, five doubles, a home run and 19 RBI.
Senior Josh Akerman was 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 18 innings and Griffiths was 0-1 with a 6.26 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 22 innings.
"We have a strong junior class, but many lack innings at the varsity level," second-year coach Ty Brenning said. "We're going to be counting on 10 kids every day and maybe 11, 12 or 13 with pitching."
The pitching staff has been bolstered by the addition of junior Jacob Niggemeyer, a Worthington Kilbourne transfer who has verbally committed to Ohio State. Last season, he was 3-4 with a 1.65 ERA and was second-team all-OCC-Central.
Also back on the mound is senior Max Gunn (P/1B), who has committed to Thiel College in Greenville, Pa.
Rounding out the team are seniors Louis Firmstone (2B/OF), Bailey Riddle (OF), Ryan Stewart (2B/C) and Bryson Wray (3B/P), juniors Steven Meegan (C), Morgan Rankey (OF), Cameron Vogt (P) and Marcus Wechselberger (1B/OF) and sophomores Justice Grieble (OF/P), A.J. Kullman (OF/P) and Hunter Littlejohn (1B/OF).
"Alec Snider is our starting center fielder who has tremendous athleticism and not only the speed to run the ball down, but he also has a strong arm," said Brenning, whose team opened March 30 at V.A. Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, defeating Chillicothe Unioto 7-0 and Delaware 5-0. "Louis Firmstone is our hardest worker and has all of the physical tools. He really fits a need for us at second base.
"Max Gunn is coming off (knee) surgery and has high expectations for his senior season. He has worked hard in an effort to achieve those goals."
Orange looking to rebuild this spring
Orange lost 14 seniors from last season, when it finished 27-4 overall, placed second in the OCC-Capital, won its first district title and reached a Division I regional final before losing to Grove City 7-4.
The Pioneers, who opened March 30 with a 4-3 win over Northridge, return four starters in seniors Brady Harris (1B/P/C) and Paul Trick (SS/P) and juniors Cody McCague (3B/P) and Alec McCurry (2B/OF/P/C).
"We had a great group last year, but they are gone and good to talk about, but it's this team's turn," third-year coach Phil Callaghan said. "We have a big chunk of the lineup back from last year and they know what's expected of them. They have the right attitude."
Last season, Harris hit .451 with one home run, 12 doubles, three triples, nine stolen bases, 31 runs and 29 RBI and was second-team all-league. He is expected to miss time early in the season with a shoulder injury he sustained during basketball season.
Trick batted .302 with 20 RBI and 18 runs and went 7-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings and made second-team all-league. McCurry hit .329 with 20 RBI, 22 runs and five doubles and McCague batted .262 with four doubles, two triples, 13 runs and 19 RBI.
Also back are junior Matt Smith (OF/P) and sophomore Tyler Johnson (P/SS/2B). Last season, Johnson was 6-0 with a 2.55 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings and hit .375 with 10 RBI and nine runs.
"We know Paul Trick and Tyler Johnson will be our Nos. 1 and 2 (pitchers), but then it's a matter of who will fill our 3-6 spots," Callaghan said. "Our staff looks like it can throw strikes, so even though it was an area of concern at first, I feel pretty good about them."
Rounding out the team are seniors Alex Clark (1B), Vince Huck (P/2B/OF) and Jake Stier (P/OF), juniors Adam Dunn (C), Nick Johnson (OF), Nick Mancini (P/OF), Michael Richard (P/C/1B/OF), Jake Ross (P/2B/OF) and Nathan Zebar (OF), sophomore C.J. Stablein (P/SS/2B/OF) and freshmen Matt Gutkoski (2B/SS/OF) and Colin Shepherd (1B/SS/2B/OF).
Seeded second in the district last year, Orange had a first-round bye and defeated Westerville South 12-1 in five innings in the second round, Upper Arlington 11-1 in six innings in a semifinal and Pickerington Central 3-1 in a final.
The Pioneers then defeated Thomas Worthington 7-6 in a regional semifinal before falling to Grove City.
Orange went 11-3 in the OCC-Capital to finish behind Big Walnut (12-2) and ahead of New Albany (10-4), Watkins Memorial (8-5), Delaware (6-8), Mount Vernon (5-9), Hilliard Bradley (3-10) and Franklin Heights (0-14).
The Pioneers open league play Monday, April 8, at home against New Albany.