The return of eight players should help the Pickerington American Legion Post 283 baseball team in its quest to win its fourth consecutive district championship and contend for the state title.
Last year, Post 283 compiled a 37-11 record, including a 2-2 mark in the double-elimination state tournament to finish fourth in the eight-team event, which was held at Beavers Field in Lancaster.
"We've got a number of guys back who played key roles last season, and they're surrounded by a number of very capable players as we look to win another district championship and compete for a state championship," said eighth-year coach Chris Weber, whose team was 18-2 before playing Athens Post 21 on June 24.
Post 283, which won its first 14 games before losing to Maumee Post 320 5-3 on June 15, is comprised of 18 players from a total of seven high schools. Watkins Memorial and Liberty Union both are represented by five players, Pickerington North, Bloom-Carroll and St. Charles each has two representatives and Newark and Fairfield Union both have one.
The returnees are Steve Asbury, Doug Connor and Derek Helbing of Watkins Memorial, Jake Edwards and Jordan Grubb of Pickerington North, Chris Brake of St. Charles, Scott Baker of Bloom-Carroll and Chad Burge of Fairfield Union.
Also on the roster are from Ricky Frey and Kyle Gannon of Watkins Memorial, Tyler Magley, Tyler Makuch, Eric McClure, Johnny Putnam and Adam Snyder of Liberty Union, Zach Brake of St. Charles, Michael Long of Newark and Jacob Newton of Bloom-Carroll.
All but Zach Brake, Connor, Edwards, Makuch and Putnam are graduates.
"Pitching and defense, as usual, will be the key to our season," Weber said. "We have so many arms. It'd be easier to say who won't pitch than who will pitch. We might have just a few guys -- Long, Makuch, Burge and Grubb -- who I wouldn't consider pitching. The rest we'll see about. When you play a schedule like we do, with 50 to 60 games and up to seven in a weekend tournament, you need all of those arms."
Connor and Edwards are left-handed pitchers. Weber, who entered the season with a 287-73 record with Post 283, also considers his team's speed to be a strength.
"We've got some very good speed," he said. "Our primary outfielders -- Snyder, Newton, Long, Makuch, Magley and Frey -- could piece together one heck of a 400-meter relay team if you took away their gloves. I think that speed will be evident in the outfield and on the base paths. We're going to be aggressive on the bases and we're going to bunt and hit-and-run and steal bases."
Chris Brake is the primary shortstop for Post 283, but the other infield positions did not have a clear-cut starter through the first three weeks of the season. Helbing and McClure have been sharing the catching duties, Baker and Grubb have been splitting time at third base, Magley and Makuch have been splitting time at second base and Asbury and Burge are among several players who could see time at first base.
"(The players will) all get opportunities (to play), especially early (in the season)," Weber said. "We're going to put them in uncomfortable situations and see how they respond, who can handle what.
"June is for pretend and July is to contend. We're not playing other teams. We're playing ourselves. We want to remain focused and not play to the level of our opponent. It's easy to get up for some games, but I want to see who can play baseball the way it's supposed to be played, regardless of the opponent."