An experienced Westerville North High School softball team appears ready to again contend for an OCC-Cardinal Division title.

An experienced Westerville North High School softball team appears ready to again contend for an OCC-Cardinal Division title.

The Warriors have nine seniors who helped the team share the title last season with Marysville. North and Marysville went 11-3 to finish ahead of Westerville Central (9-5), Olentangy (9-5), Westerville South (6-8), Olentangy Liberty (6-8), Dublin Scioto (2-12) and Dublin Jerome (1-13). It was North's first league title since 2001.

"I look forward to every year whether we win or lose," said coach Joe Francisco, who is in his 21st season. "I've never in all the years I've coached had nine seniors, but I have them this year. It's a close team. It's been fun. I can't believe that we've gone through four years with them already."

The Warriors finished 17-9 overall after losing to top-seeded Central Crossing 10-0 in five innings in a Division I district semifinal. North defeated Briggs 11-0 in six innings in its district opener and beat Lancaster 3-2 in the second round.

Leading the way this season should be senior pitcher Alli Rowland, who was 17-7 last year with a 1.80 ERA. She was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

"We just need to keep on hitting like we did last year," Rowland said. "Our defense is pretty solid, but we just need to hit."

Also back are senior Lilly Gresh (3B/OF), who hit .392 with 13 RBI last season, and senior Tory Speakman (C), who hit .365 with 16 RBI. Both were first-team all-league.

Other key returnees include senior Lisa Simmons (SS), who hit .333 and was second-team all-league, senior Sami Dustman (2B/OF), who hit .317 and was special mention all-league and junior Victoria Shaffer (OF), who hit .355 and was honorable mention all-league.

Other seniors who played last season are Alex Brooker (1B), Ari Jamison (OF), Katie Mitchell (OF/2B/C) and Ashley Pavolino (P/OF).

Also looking to contribute are juniors Paige Chapman (OF) and Olivia Grilliot (OF/C) and freshmen Alex Allamon (OF/2B), Lizzy Bauer (OF/SS/C), Chase Brumfield (C/1B/OF) and Halli Swiger (OF).

The Warriors open at Sarasota (Fla.) on Monday, March 26, and begin league play April 2 at Jerome.

Confidence could be key to South's success

South is looking to improve on last season's 13-10 record.

The Wildcats lost to Worthington Kilbourne 8-5 in the second round of the Division I district tournament after beating Hilliard Darby 7-1 in the first round.

The top returnees are senior Erica Aiello (SS), who hit .337 last season and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and senior Lindsay Gerhart (OF/INF), who was second-team all-league.

"Things are going good," Gerhart said. "People won't expect what we have. We have a lot of decent players that have potential. It should be an exciting season."

Another key returnee is junior Chelsea Raker (3B/1B/P), who hit .324 last season.

Junior pitcher Leah Ross, who saw some time in the circle last season, is being counted on to replace 2011 graduate Morgan Dietz. Dietz was 9-7 with a 2.28 ERA last season and was honorable mention all-league.

Devan Akers (C/INF) is the other senior on the team.

"We have some experience, but it has opened up a little bit," said coach Jerry Kelbley, who is in his 32nd season. "We just have to have more confidence in ourselves, build that confidence and believe in each other."

Also looking to contribute are juniors Hannah Abner (OF), Laura Harrah (OF), Kerri Migliore (INF/OF), Bre Soule (1B/OF), Chey Warrick (INF), Brianna Wendell (C/OF) and Katie Williams (1B/OF).

South also must replace 2011 graduate Leigh Siedlak, who led the team last season with a .377 batting average and was second-team all-district.

The Wildcats open Monday, March 26, in South Carolina with games against North Charleston (S.C.) Northwood Academy and Orangeburg (S.C.) Prep.

South begins league play April 2 at Central.

"I really like this team," Kelbley said. "They're all good students, good citizens and they really work hard in school."

Central enters season with experienced look

Central returns several players who contributed to last season's 19-8 finish. The Warhawks lost to Delaware 2-0 in the second round of the Division I tournament after beating Brookhaven 21-0 in five innings in the first round.

Sophomore pitcher Paige McMenemy, who saw time in the circle last year behind 2011 graduate Alexis Rios, is expected to take over the main pitching duties this season.

Last season, McMenemy was 6-6 with a 0.89 ERA and was second-team all-league.

Junior outfielder Perry Wallinger, who batted .360 last season, was honorable mention all-league.

Also back are seniors Meredith Bury (3B/SS) and Andi Lowe (C/OF) and sophomores Morgan Ciehanski (2B/OF) and Allie Haines (C/OF).

"We're having a lot of fun, but we're working hard at the same time," Bury said. "We definitely need to work as a team and our team bonding has really helped that. Also, practices have gone really well this year."

Juniors Adrienne Nelson (2B/OF), Hailey Pinkerton (2B/OF) and Kaitlyn Tumblison (1B/OF) are new to the team, which also includes freshmen Hannah Carter (SS/P) and Jessie Lowery (1B/OF).

Central opens by playing five games at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C., beginning Monday, March 26.

The Warhawks open league play April 2 at home against South.

"I think we can at least match last season," said coach Brian Wamsley, who is in his third season. "I'm very optimistic when it comes to that. They're young, but they have a lot of spunk and a lot of confidence, which I'm glad. They already feel that they can go out and win whatever it is they need to win."

Central lost eight players to graduation including Allie Cody, who led the team with a .444 batting average and was first-team all-league and all-district.

Andi Hayes was first-team all-league and second-team all-district, and Rios was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.