After an 8-2 loss to Watkins Memorial in its first scrimmage March 14, the Upper Arlington High School baseball team heard an early state-of-the-state address from third-year coach Matt Middleton.

After an 8-2 loss to Watkins Memorial in its first scrimmage March 14, the Upper Arlington High School baseball team heard an early state-of-the-state address from third-year coach Matt Middleton.

Granted it was the Golden Bears' first live action outdoors, but he took the better part of 20 minutes to reinforce expectations and attempt to head off bad habits before they took root.

"There are a lot of little things about the game we want to make sure we sharpen up a little bit," Middleton said. "Pitchers have to get ahead of hitters. That will come as we get going into the season a little bit and get stronger. We have to make routine plays and our hitters have to put the ball in play."

UA went 7-17 overall and 6-8 in the OCC-Central Division last season, losing 3-2 to 11th-seeded Marysville in the first round of the Division I district tournament

"We're not going to bank on what happened last year," Middleton said. "We'll take it one game at a time (and) we're just going to continue to get better with those guys out there."

Six seniors and eight juniors will play a large part in determining this year's fortunes for the Bears, who open Monday, March 26, at home against Pickerington Central.

UA lost five players from a year ago - Jon Borchert (1B/P), Charles Cooper (OF/P), Charlie Hess (INF), Michael Jeffers (P) and Doug Radcliff (P) - to graduation and will depend on, among others, senior and Ohio State-bound Michael Koltak (P/INF), seniors Austin Gibson (P/1B/3B) and Eddie Miller (P/1B/3B), junior Chandler Cole (OF/P) and sophomore Mitch Nini (2B).

"I think we have the makings to be pretty good," Gibson said. "We have a lot of young guys who are starting to pick it up and step up for us. We have a lot of people to fill a lot of positions. We have second- and third-string guys who can come in and be productive. I feel if we can put the pieces together, we'll be fine."

Koltak, who will be a preferred walk-on for the Buckeyes, is expected to anchor a pitching staff that also will feature Cole, Gibson, Miller, senior Michael Armstrong, juniors Robbie Baskent, Nick Reed and Scott Strayton, sophomore left-hander Danny Hummer and sophomore Mathis Newman.

Koltak went 2-4 with a 5.94 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings last season. As a shortstop, he hit .322 with 14 RBI and eight runs scored. Nini, who made his varsity debut four games into last season and started the rest of the season, batted .333 with 14 RBI and 10 runs.

Among the team's other offensive leaders were Miller (.322, 12 RBI, team-high 19 runs), senior catcher/outfielder Pat Crowley (.300, 10 RBI, 17 runs), Armstrong (.284, 8 RBI, 17 runs, 1 home run, 4 stolen bases) and senior catcher Jordan Arkin (.375).

Cole missed the entire 2011 season with a hip injury.

Nini and sophomore shortstop Will Marable are expected to be stalwarts in the middle infield. However, Middleton was quick to say if changes are needed anywhere on the field, the team has the depth to make them.

"We only won seven games last year, so you kind of have to start looking at a lot of things, including coaching," Middleton said. "Every day last year and the offseason, I thought about what we could do better as players and coaches to put our kids in better positions to succeed. But you also have to look position by position. Some kids will get their chance because they're returning, but we can't have too big a leash because we do have good kids coming up who work hard. It's a game-by-game process."

UA begins OCC-Central play March 30 at Thomas Worthington. The Bears finished sixth in the league last year, behind Dublin Coffman (13-1), Hilliard Davidson (10-4), Worthington Kilbourne (10-4), Hilliard Darby (7-7) and Thomas (7-7) and ahead of Central Crossing (2-12) and Westland (1-13).

"Defense and pitching are where we really need to tighten it up," Miller said. "With these new (BBCOR) bats, it's going to be so important not to walk people. Just go straight at the batter and let them hit the ball. Throw the ball, catch the ball, we'll be fine."