It didn't take long for the expectations of Pickerington High School Central softball coach Dan Drees to rise.

It didn't take long for the expectations of Pickerington High School Central softball coach Dan Drees to rise.

In the beginning, Central was trying to fill voids left by the graduation of eight starters who led the Tigers to OCC-Cardinal Division and Division I district and regional titles.

Yet as the regular season ended and the district tournament began, Drees saw potential in his team and thought big.

"The kids were playing great at the end," he said.

"From that perspective, I thought we had the potential of going further."

Central, which was seeded ninth, lost in a district semifinal to third-seeded Hilliard Darby 1-0 in nine innings May 19. The Tigers finished 18-10 overall.

In the OCC-Cardinal, Central went 7-3 for second place behind Westerville South, which finished 9-1.

They were followed by Mount Vernon and Worthington Kilbourne at 5-5 and Dublin Jerome and Olentangy at 2-8.

"We met expectations in terms of improvement," Drees said. "At the beginning of the season, we weren't sure if we could even compete in our league.

"Ending up second in our league was a really good accomplishment."

How Central finished the season is expected to carry some momentum into the offseason.

"Our last eight games bode well for us at the start of next season," Drees said. "I've talked with a lot of our players and had postseason meetings with them, they've all taken that step of knowing what is needed to get to that next level. I've given them expectations of where I want them to start out. We'll have a few voids to fill, which is going to be the tricky part, but we'll have a very solid group coming back."

The Tigers will lose seniors Casey Drees, Stephanie Egan, Kerry Gibson, Abby Ritchey and Brittany Ritter.

Drees and Gibson were named first-team all-OCC-Cardinal. Gibson was first-team all-district and honorable mention all-state and Drees was second-team all-district.

Gibson led the Tigers with a .382 batting average and 28 RBI. Drees hit .322 and had 21 RBI.

Leading the group of expected returnees is a trio of sophomores in Erin Lashley, Kelsey Long and Kristina Massey.

Lashley and Long were on varsity as freshmen and experienced Central's run to the state semifinal round. They are expected to take more of a leadership role next season.

"They are good leaders in their own right," coach Drees said. "They were a little hesitant to lead at first, but even though they weren't the oldest players on the team, a lot of others still looked toward them as they have experience and talent."

Lashley and Long were first-team all-league and Massey was honorable mention.

Lashley hit .347, Massey had 17 RBI and Long was 13-9 with 97 strikeouts, 38 walks and a 1.67 ERA.

At a glance

•Record: 18-10 overall, 7-3 (second) in OCC-Cardinal

•Seniors lost: Casey Drees, Stephanie Egan, Kerry Gibson, Abby Ritchey and Brittany Ritter

•Key returnees: Erin Lashley, Kelsey Long and Kristina Massey