The Westerville Central High School baseball team made a lot of improvements last year in coach Jeff Keifer's first season.
The Warhawks finished 13-11, which marked the first time the program finished above the .500 mark. Central was 5-5 in the OCC-Central to finish fourth behind Pickerington North (9-1), Delaware (7-3) and Thomas Worthington (6-4) and ahead of Marysville (2-8) and Central Crossing (1-9).
The main emphasis for the Warhawks this season will be to continue improving and challenge for an OCC title.
"We're improving on a daily basis, and being outside has helped," Keifer said. "We're getting a lot better. We're struggling with our consistency now but we've shown signs that we can be a very good team. We just have to remember it's early. But so far the attitude and the work ethic has been fantastic."
Central will be led by seniors Jordan Helmer (1B/3B), C.J. Hisey (P/OF) and Alex Will (C/INF) and junior Billy Cooper (P).
Hisey and Cooper will take the top two spots in the pitching rotation. Helmer will be a corner infielder and hit in the middle of the lineup. Will's primary position is catcher but he will see playing time at a variety of positions.
"I was behind Ben Buchanan but now that he's gone I'm going to put the team on my shoulders and let them know they can count on me to be a leader," Hisey said.
Others expected to contribute include juniors Alex Lannom (CF), Michael Layman (P/1B), R.J. Mardis (2B/SS) and Will Bryant (utility).
"This is one of the most balanced teams I remember having in a while," Keifer said. "We've got a lot of kids who can play different positions. What we can do then is find the nine hottest bats, so that's a strength."
Keifer said he would like to see the Warhawks improve their discipline at the plate.
"One day we'll have a good practice and another day it's something else," Keifer said. "Our focus right now is putting the ball in play and eliminating errors. We need to stop trying to be great and just be good."
With the OCC realignment, Central will compete in the OCC-Cardinal with Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Marysville, Olentangy, Olentangy Liberty, Westerville North and Westerville South. Scioto was a district finalist last season and Jerome was a district semifinalist.
The new divisions also means that each team will now play three league games a week instead of two, like they did last season.
"There's not a runaway team in this league that I can think of," Keifer said. "I would expect Jerome and Scioto to be good. But everybody in the league should be solid and I think there are a lot of teams in a similar situation as us. I would say (our division) is as wide open as it gets."
Central took a big step forward last season by putting together its first winning season. It will take another step this week when it leaves the state of Ohio for a spring break trip for the first time. The Warhawks are headed to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where they will play a variety of caliber teams from the south.
"The guys have never done something like that. I know what a great experience it is and it will help us grow as a team," Keifer said.
Things are improving for Central but Hisey said the team can't grow complacent.
"I see a lot of senior leadership on the team," Hisey said. "We've got a lot of starters back and that's a strong point. I think we'll build on the success (of last season) well. Guys can't expect to show up and win though. We need to keep working hard."
At a glance
•Coach: Jeff Keifer, second season
•Opener: Monday vs. Pickerington Central
•Key players: Billy Cooper, Jordan Helmer, C.J. Hisey and Alex Will