Despite having nine returning starters last season, the Westerville North High School softball team fell short of expectations as it finished 9-15 after losing to Hilliard Darby 7-0 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.

Despite having nine returning starters last season, the Westerville North High School softball team fell short of expectations as it finished 9-15 after losing to Hilliard Darby 7-0 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.

With four freshmen and only four returning starters this year, the Warriors are hoping they will surprise in a positive fashion.

North will open Monday at home against Sparta Highland and Tuesday at Olentangy Liberty.

"We know that most people aren't expecting much from us since we had a losing record with so many experienced players last year, but our coach is telling us that we're better than we think we are," senior catcher Natalie Bagby said. "This is my fourth year on the team and we've never had work ethic and desire like we have this year. We don't have as many experienced players, but our freshmen are talented and have a lot of athletic ability, and this is the most athletic team we've had since I've been here."

The four returning starters are Bagby, senior shortstop Alyssa Falcone, senior infielder Caitlyn Kilbaine and junior center-fielder Brittany Weber. Kilbaine started at second base last season, but may move to first base this year. Bagby led North with a .402 average last season.

Freshman Alli Rowland will start at pitcher. Rounding out the lineup and competing for starting positions are senior Lauren Swihart, sophomore Sarah Lawrence and freshmen Sami Dustman, Lilly Gresh and Lisa Simmons.

"Last year was a lot different in that we didn't have to work hard to win our starting positions because they were already made for us," Falcone said. "This year, there's competition between the players for every position, and we've all been working hard every day. Our practices are running longer and nobody's complained. I hope this means that we'll play harder during the season, too."

The Warriors lost nine of their final 10 regular-season games. They ended a five-game losing streak by beating Whetstone 10-0 in the first round of the district tournament before losing to third-seeded Darby.

The Warriors went 2-4 in games decided by one run and 1-2 in games decided by two runs on their way to a fifth consecutive losing season.

North tied Reynoldsburg for fifth at 2-8 in the OCC-Buckeye Division behind Grove City (9-1), Dublin Coffman (7-3), Upper Arlington (6-4) and Hilliard Davidson (4-6).

The Warriors are in the OCC-Cardinal this season with Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Marysville, Olentangy, Olentangy Liberty, Westerville Central and Westerville South.

"Our division of the OCC was really tough last year and we'll have to find out if our new division is going to be that good," Falcone said. "We've grown up with those girls from the other Westerville schools, so it will be fun to get to play each of them twice this season. We should be more competitive because our freshman pitcher throws hard and has good location with her pitches."

At a glance

•Coach: Joe Francisco, 18th season

•Opener: Monday vs. Sparta Highland

•Key players: Natalie Bagby, Alyssa Falcone, Caitlyn Kilbaine and Brittany Weber