Fourth-year Upper Arlington High School baseball coach Matt Middleton has high hopes this spring for the first class that he has coached four seasons.
Leading a group of nine returnees that is ready to improve on last season, when the Golden Bears finished 15-14 overall and 8-6 in the OCC-Central Division, are four seniors in Vinny Bonta (3B), Tyler Metcalf (OF), Scott Strayton (P) and Sam Thompson (P/utility).
UA opened March 30 with a doubleheader at Dublin Scioto, winning 3-2 in 10 innings and losing 4-0. The Bears lost to Pickerington Central 9-1 on April 1 and begin league play Monday, April 8, at home against Thomas Worthington.
"I like how the nucleus is shaping up," Middleton said. "We have a lot of young guys and four seniors. It's probably the first year we haven't had to go over things as much as far as the plays we do, first-to-third (base) coverage, things like that."
Metcalf is a third-year starter who has seen time in left and center field and Thompson, who was 3-2 with a 3.76 ERA last season, is expected to anchor the pitching rotation.
Other returnees who started or had significant playing time a year ago include juniors Will Marable (SS/P) and Mitch Nini (2B/SS) and sophomore Davis Robeson (P/CF).
Marable, a third-year starter at shortstop, hit .312 with a team-high 20 RBI and was 2-0 on the mound with a 2.49 ERA and two saves last season and was named first-team all-league. Robeson batted a team-best .457 with 14 RBI, Nini had 14 RBI and Metcalf had a team-high eight stolen bases.
"Will had a breakout season last year," Middleton said of Marable. "He'll probably be our third starter. He's proven we can count on him."
Others expected to contribute are juniors Luke Albu (3B/OF/DH), Tyler Bergen (P/INF), Haaken Borstad (1B/P/DH), Corbin Dennis (P/1B/DH), A.J. Kapusta (OF), Mathis Newman (P/RF), David Storer (C) and Kevin Whitfield (P) and sophomores Conner Peters (C), Alec Radcliff (P/3B/OF) and Mitch Weideling (C).
Last season, UA tied Worthington Kilbourne for third in the OCC-Central, behind Thomas (11-3) and Hilliard Darby (10-4) and ahead of Coffman (7-7), Hilliard Davidson (7-7), Central Crossing (2-11) and Westland (2-11). Central Crossing and Westland did not complete a league game.
Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal as part of OCC realignment last summer and were replaced by Marysville and Olentangy Liberty.
In the Division I district tournament last spring, UA had a first-round bye and beat Dublin Coffman 10-5 in the second round before losing to second-seeded Olentangy Orange 11-1 in six innings in a district semifinal.
"This group is baseball-savvy," Middleton said.
"We have a lot of baseball-only guys and, while I encourage my guys to do other sports if they want, the guys who only do baseball know they need to be in the weight room and hitting in the offseason. These guys are ready to go."
Softball team hopes for winning season
Sixth-year softball coach Todd DelBoccio hopes hard work and athleticism will help his team snap a string of two consecutive losing seasons.
Senior left fielder Laramie Abbruzzese, who is a Bowling Green State University signee, leads a group of six returnees that also includes seniors Hannah Benjamin (RF/2B), Ava Esler (C) and Megan Miller (2B) and juniors Stacy Gibson (1B) and McKinly Vazquez (P).
Last year, Abbruzzese hit .400 with 16 runs scored and 18 stolen bases and was second-team all-OCC-Central and honorable mention all-district, and Vazquez was 8-12 in the circle and batted .324 with 13 RBI and made honorable mention all-league.
UA, which went 10-16 overall and 4-10 in the OCC-Central last year after going 11-17 overall in 2011, opened April 3 against Westerville Central and plays its league opener Monday, April 8, at home against Thomas Worthington.
"We have a lot of really talented and athletic kids," DelBoccio said. "They're extremely hard-working and looking forward to the season. That's made them fun to be around, and I can see this team improving."
Also on the team are senior Kim Luciano (P), juniors Alex Keller (3B), Meredith Lilly (OF), Elena Medich (utility), Natasha Peterson (OF) and Annika Wachtman (CF) sophomore Avery Brick (OF) and freshman Caroline Warner (P).
UA tied Darby for sixth in the OCC-Central last year, behind Central Crossing (13-0), Thomas (11-2), Kilbourne (9-4), Davidson (6-8) and Coffman (4-9) and ahead of Westland (2-10) as Central Crossing, Coffman, Kilbourne, Thomas and Westland did not complete all of their league games.
UA defeated Hilliard Bradley 8-4 in the first round of the Division I district tournament before losing to third-seeded Pickerington Central 5-0 in the second round.
Among six players from a year ago who graduated were center fielder Mandie Abbruzzese, who hit .433 with 10 RBI and 16 runs and is playing at Ohio State, and catcher Stephanie Turner, who hit .375 with 12 RBI.
"We have some good chemistry. They're all coachable and they all get along," DelBoccio said of his players.
"They've asked a lot of questions in an effort to get better, and we're in a position where they've been able to play well together."