The finish for the Westerville South High School baseball team wasn't the one it wanted.

The finish for the Westerville South High School baseball team wasn't the one it wanted.

But the Wildcats, who lost to New Albany 4-3 in a Division I district semifinal May 20 to finish 16-9 overall, definitely believe their season was one that shows the program is on the climb.

The district semifinal appearance was South's first since 2001.

"We improved a lot from last year (when the team was 9-16)," junior first baseman/designated hitter Joe Stiltner said. "We knew we could do well. In indoor practices in the winter, everything came together. We had arms, we could hit and we had great camaraderie."

The Wildcats opened the postseason by beating Logan 7-6 on May 10 and then defeated 10th-seeded Worthington Kilbourne 5-3 in the second round May 12. They led New Albany 2-1 after five innings, but the Eagles rallied with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. New Albany defeated Dublin Jerome 10-1 in a district final last Friday to earn its first Division I district title.

South went 8-6 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to finish fourth, behind Dublin Scioto, Dublin Jerome and Olentangy Liberty, all of which went 10-4 to share the championship. Marysville finished fifth at 7-7, followed by Westerville North (5-9), Westerville Central (4-10) and Olentangy (2-12).

South was competitive all year. It squared off with five of the six district finalists, beating three: champion Upper Arlington 12-11 on April 1, runner-up Reynoldsburg 14-2 on March 30 and runner-up Liberty 1-0 on April 19.

"The guys accomplished a lot," coach Tim Bates said. "We wanted to be the best team in Westerville, the best in the league and get to (a district semifinal). We accomplished the first and third and went into the last week of (league play) with a chance to win it."

The run was keyed by the team's five seniors: Matt Duffy (C), Garrett Gillette (RF), Billy Harkenrider (1B/DH/OF) Austin Parks (3B) and Brian Williams (P/SS).

Williams was the team's ace, going 5-4 with a 2.28 ERA. He threw a five-hitter in the shutout over Liberty and got the victory over Reynoldsburg.

He also hit .327 with eight doubles, three home runs and 18 RBI and was named first-team all OCC-Cardinal and honorable mention all-district.

"Brian was a bulldog on the mound," Bates said. "We knew we'd be in every game he pitched. In three of the games he lost, we didn't get an extra base hit for him, but he kept us in the games."

Harkenrider hit .394 with 21 RBI and 26 runs and led the team with nine doubles and six home runs. He was named second-team all-league and all-district, and Gillette, who hit .366, made honorable mention in the league and district.

The remaining eight players on the squad are juniors with starting experience, fueling optimism the Wildcats can make a tournament run again next spring.

Others expected to return are Nate Allen (CF), Dillon Cook (SS/P), Mark Hensley (OF), Ben Jones (SS/P), Josh Llaneza (C), Matt Stiltner (2B/3B) and Ben Williams (LF/2B).

Ben Williams hit a team-high .429 and led South with 28 runs scored. Hensley hit .400 to rank second on the squad. Llaneza hit .385 with three home runs, 21 RBI and 22 runs scored. Matt Stiltner hit 385, while Joe Stiltner hit .373 with four home runs and a team-best 22 RBI.

Llaneza was second-team all-league and all-district and Ben Williams was second-team all-league.

Cook missed the entire season with an arm injury. As a sophomore, he played shortstop and was the team's No. 2 pitcher, striking out 37 in 34 2/3 innings.

"I think we can do well again," Joe Stiltner said. "We lose some good players, but we're going to have to have someone else step up. If we do, we can do it again."