North aiming for consistent, calm approach
At least a few Pickerington High School North baseball players, as well as their coach, haven't forgotten the inconsistency that sometimes plagued the Panthers last year despite a 17-9 record and Division I district semifinal appearance.
Those players spent much of 2012 finding their place after the loss of 13 players to graduation. This year, North has eight seniors and hopes it regains the form that has helped the program win 92 of 118 games since the start of the 2009 season.
"I think it's our experience, and we have a bunch of juniors who are all really talented," junior catcher and co-captain Justin Childers said.
"We're calmer in games. We're not as worried about making errors, just about winning more. We're not scared to lose. We can handle it."
Returning to lead the Panthers are seniors Corey Black (P/INF), Jordan Grubb (2B), Chaz Murray (OF), Ryan Miller (OF/P), Kyle Montell (P/OF), Tyler Pagano (OF/P), Matt Poland (C/P) and Warren Stoddard (P/INF). Five of them will play in college -- Grubb at Walsh, Miller at Miami University, Montell at Tiffin, Pagano at Oakland and Poland at Dayton.
Montell, who is expected to be the Panthers' ace, was 4-3 with a 4.51 ERA, 23 strikeouts and 27 walks in 35 2/3 innings last year. He also hit .356 with two doubles and five RBI and scored nine runs.
Poland hit .391 with 11 doubles and 20 RBI. Pagano was 5-2 with a 2.65 ERA, struck out 33 and walked 32 in 37 innings while hitting .295 with four doubles, a triple and 15 RBI.
Grubb missed all but one game last year after breaking his hand during a season-opening trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"As a coaching staff, we're very comfortable with all aspects," eighth-year coach Tim Thomas said.
"We have 10 or 11 kids we're comfortable throwing. Defensively, we have a lot of guys solid at their positions coming back for their second or third year. Offensively, we have big, fast guys. The main thing is being consistent all the way through."
Also on the roster are juniors Collin Anderson (INF), Adam Butcher (OF), Hayden Ballog (INF), Jake Edwards (P/INF) and Alex Weiss (P) and sophomores Logan Giddings (P/INF), Brendan Green (INF) and Michael Pagano (C/P).
North finished 9-4 in the OCC-Ohio Division, tying Pickerington Central for third behind eventual Division I state semifinalist Grove City (11-0) and Gahanna (10-4) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (5-9), Lancaster (4-8), Newark (4-9) and Groveport (0-14). Not all teams completed their league schedules.
The Panthers earned the sixth seed in the district tournament, opening with an 8-1 win over Teays Valley in the second round before losing to 12th-seeded Westerville Central 6-3 in a semifinal.
North hit the ground running, scheduling seven games between March 31 and Friday, April 5, at the Cal Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach. The Panthers defeated Franklin (Ky.) Franklin-Simpson 4-3 in the opener, and other games pitted the Panthers against teams from Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
North's home and league opener is Monday, April 8, against Newark.
"Coach Thomas always tells us to have high expectations for ourselves," said Miller, a second-team all-league honoree last year. "If we do that, the bigger things come into line."
Takos takes over veteran Tigers
Bowling Green signees Greg Basalyga (P/SS) and Devon Fisk (P/OF/2B/SS) lead a class of eight seniors hoping to improve on Central's 16-11 record of a year ago under new coach Andy Takos.
Basalyga, who was rated the state's top third base prospect last year by Prep Baseball Report, is a three-year letterwinner who hit .347 with a team-high three home runs last year. He also was 3-1 with a 1.96 ERA and two saves and was named second-team all-league.
Fisk hit .343 with six stolen bases last year for Central, which lost to second-seeded Olentangy Orange 3-1 in its first district final appearance since 2008.
The Tigers defeated Mount Vernon 1-0 in a second-round game and upset fifth-seeded New Albany 1-0 in a semifinal.
Despite having those two Division I signees, Takos still wasn't sure last week what to expect from his team prior to its 9-1 season-opening home win April 1 over Upper Arlington.
"There are some things we still have to figure out as far as game situations. That's how baseball is. You just have to see what happens once you get between the lines," said Takos, a 1994 Pickerington graduate who replaced 15-year coach Chick Campbell. "But the kids have been great. They've worked hard every single day. They haven't gotten into bad habits or anything like that."
Rounding out the senior class are Kaleb Foltz (P/2B), Brett Franklin (2B/3B/SS), Sam Laihr (OF), Skylar Smart (OF/P), Zach Vandemark (C) and Nick Westhora (OF/P). Other players are juniors Michael Barnabei (OF/P), Kyle Casserly (P/OF), Michael Lepley (3B/P), Cris Reyes (3B/1B/P) and Kyle Stephens (1B/P/2B), sophomores Colin Federer (3B/P/SS), Jacob Flynn (C), David Weimar (OF) and Ron Williams (3B/C/P) and freshman Clayton Surrell (SS/P/2B/3B).
Casserly, a first-team all-league selection last year, is being recruited by Akron, Cincinnati, Miami University and Northwestern.
The Tigers' league opener is Monday, April 8, at home against Lancaster.