As Jerry Kelbley begins his 31st season as coach of the Westerville South High School softball team, his main focus remains the fundamentals of the game.

As Jerry Kelbley begins his 31st season as coach of the Westerville South High School softball team, his main focus remains the fundamentals of the game.

That's what he was stressing to his team prior to its first scrimmage March 19 against Ready.

"We need to put the ball in play more," Kelbley said.

"We need to make the other team play defense. That's what we really want to work at this year."

The Wildcats are looking to improve on last season when they finished 11-14 overall and went 5-9 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to tie Dublin Scioto for sixth, behind co-champions Marysville and Olentangy Liberty (11-3 each), Westerville Central (10-4), Westerville North (7-7) and Olentangy (6-8), and ahead of Dublin Jerome (1-13).

South defeated Newark 5-1 in the first round of the Division I district tournament before losing to Marysville 3-2 in eight innings in the second round for its ninth one-run loss of the season.

"I hope we do a little better than that," Kelbley said of his team's overall record a year ago. "We'd like to be .500, at least. Our goal is to win our division and go as far as we can in the tournament."

The Wildcats lost five players to graduation, including pitcher/second baseman Rachel Ross, who was the team's leading hitter (.355, 13 RBI) and top pitcher (9-11, 2.15 ERA, 136 strikeouts).

However, South returns a nucleus that includes seniors Morgan Dietz (P/2B), Anastasia Levakis (C), Emily Noskowiak (OF), Leigh Siedlak (2B/OF), Danielle Steward (OF/1B) and Lindsay Svendsen (OF/C).

Also back are junior Erica Aiello (SS) and sophomores Chelsea Raker (3B/P) and Brianna Wendell (OF/C).

Last season, Aiello batted .317 and Dietz had 11 RBI and was 2-3 in the circle with a 1.88 ERA and 24 strikeouts.

"We just need to come together as a team this year," Levakis said. "We have a lot of talent on the team. We just need to mesh together and work out things."

Rounding out the roster are juniors Devan Akers (C) and Lindsey Gerhart (OF) and sophomores Laura Harrah (P/OF), Kerri Migliore (INF), Leah Ross (P) and Katie Williams (1B).

Kelbley said no one has emerged as the top pitcher.

"We need the competition," he said.

"They will probably all pitch for us. I don't know if we will have a No. 1. They'll all pitch maybe in every game."

South opens Tuesday, March 29, against Moncks Corner (S.C.) Berkeley in Charleston, S.C. The Wildcats are scheduled to play three games on their spring break trip to South Carolina.

"This is probably our 25th year of going south (during spring break)," Kelbley said. "We get all day of practice and certainly get a lot better weather. The team is together and we'll practice during the day and play at night."

The Wildcats open OCC-Cardinal play April 4 against visiting Central.

"That's a big game to us just because obviously it's Central and it's our first (league) game, so we're not sure how we're going to do," Siedlak said. "We want to come out strong, especially against Central since they're a rival."