This time last season, Pickerington High School Central softball coach Dan Drees was trying to fill voids left by the graduation of eight starters after the Tigers won OCC, district and regional titles the year before.

This time last season, Pickerington High School Central softball coach Dan Drees was trying to fill voids left by the graduation of eight starters after the Tigers won OCC, district and regional titles the year before.

As Central prepares for the opener Monday at home against Westland, it is in a much better position after a preseason that has been a little less stressful.

"We have a whole different confidence level this season," Drees said. "We've looked a lot more in sync than what we did last year."

Central finished 18-10 overall after the ninth-seeded Tigers lost to third-seeded Hilliard Darby 1-0 in nine innings in a Division I district semifinal. Central went 7-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to finish second to Westerville South at 9-1.

Central has returned its entire infield except its catcher. The returnees are senior Merissa Magers (1B), juniors Erin Lashley (SS), Kelsey Long (P) and Kris Massey (2B) and sophomore Caleb Boyer (3B).

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.

"Kelsey and Erin were both on the team that went to the final four as freshmen," Drees said. "They've been involved in the tournament run and experienced the growth the team had last year. Both have been very dedicated to the whole offseason and I'm looking forward to those two to lead the team."

Central lost five graduates, led by catcher Casey Drees and outfielder Kerry Gibson. Both were first-team all-OCC. Gibson was first-team all-district and honorable mention all-state and Drees was second-team all-district.

Gibson batted .382 with 28 RBI and Drees hit .322 with 21 RBI.

Sophomore Katie Bender and freshman Hannah Ditto are battling to replace Drees at catcher.

The outfield returns one starter in senior right-fielder Skyler Singer. Also vying for time in the outfield are senior Katelynd Shoff, junior Jenn Hewitt and freshman Kristina Hamler.

"We're going to have to hit really well," Magers said. "Our defense looked really good toward the end of last season and it should still be strong. Even if we're not hitting well, we still pulled games out."

Casey Drees and Gibson batted third and fourth last season, and coach Drees is looking for replacements.

"This team has a lot of speed and can put the ball in play," he said. "I don't see us hitting with as much power as we did last year. Right now, our defense should help us since I don't see us scoring as many runs as last year. At the same time, all these players were not used to varsity play early last season and now I expect them to hit varsity pitching better."

At a glance

•Coach: Dan Drees, sixth season

•Key players: Erin Lashley, Kelsey Long and Kris Massey

•Opener: Monday vs. Westland