Four players with three years of varsity experience return for the Pickerington High School North softball team, and that has coach Tabitha Furlong expecting better results in her second season with the Panthers.

Four players with three years of varsity experience return for the Pickerington High School North softball team, and that has coach Tabitha Furlong expecting better results in her second season with the Panthers.

North finished 12-12 overall last season after losing to 11th-seeded Dublin Coffman 5-1 in the first round of the Division I district tournament. In the OCC-Central Division, North tied Central Crossing and Delaware for third at 4-6 behind Marysville at 10-0 and Thomas Worthington at 6-4.

"Being 12-12 last season, we expect more and want to do better," said Furlong, whose team opens Wednesday at home against Coffman. "We have four seniors this year that have been at the varsity level for at least three years. They've been there, they've been successful and they know what it takes to be successful again."

Leading the returnees are seniors Brittany Gamby (SS), Ris McDaniel (C), Kayla Tharp (DP/3B) and Jessica Widener (P/1B).

"There are a lot of things coaches have to say that we don't have to this year," Furlong said. "Those seniors are taking care of it. They are helping keep our practices structured and focused."

McDaniel batted .385 last season followed by Gamby at .373. McDaniel and Widener drove in 20 runs. North batted .309 as a team ,and the strong hitting has continued, according to Furlong.

"I've noticed during practice there is a different feeling in the air," McDaniel said. "Everyone is working really hard and wants to do well."

North, which lost two graduates, also returns juniors Erica Bruestle (OF/3B), Michele Hare (3B) and Colleen Wentz (P) and sophomores Kendall Kellogg (OF) and Linda Lauefer (2B).

Widener and Wentz will front the pitching staff again. Wentz was 7-5 with a 4.40 ERA. She allowed 111 hits, struck out 53 and walked 30 in 92 1/3 innings. Widener had a 4.18 ERA, struck out 47 and walked eight in 65 1/3 innings.

"Pitching is our weakest area," Furlong said. "Jessica does it on the side, it's not her forte. Colleen is injured right now and she's been out two weeks. We're not sure how well she'll come back."

In addition to fundamentals, North wants to limit its mental errors.

"We weren't blown out in many games last year," Furlong said. "We lost by a few runs here or there. We're stressing that physical mistakes are going to happen and we can handle that. It's the mental mistakes that killed us."

The Panthers committed seven errors in the season-ending loss a year ago.

"We can't get too excited when we're up," McDaniel said. "We tend to get excited when we're winning and we fell off. We need to stay strong the whole entire game. If we get flat, we end up giving up runs."

At a glance

g0326pkctrlsb_sp•Coach: Tabitha Furlong, second season

•Opener: Wednesday vs. Dublin Coffman

•Key players: Brittany Gamby, Ris McDaniel, Kayla Tharp and Jessica Widener