Westerville Central High School baseball coach Jeff Keifer is hoping that his team has set the standard for the program.

Westerville Central High School baseball coach Jeff Keifer is hoping that his team has set the standard for the program.

The Warhawks reached their second consecutive Division I district final, where they lost fourth-seeded Thomas Worthington 5-0 on May 17 at Ohio Dominican University to finish 17-12 overall.

Seeded 12th, Central had a first-round bye and defeated Reynoldsburg 6-0 in the second round May 9. It then upset sixth-seeded Pickerington North 6-3 in a district semifinal on May 15 at Hilliard Davidson before falling to Thomas.

"I told the team that if we're in tears after a district runner-up (finish), then we have really brought this program to new heights that we didn't think we'd be able to get to," Keifer said. "I know a lot of tears are because they're going to miss each other, but they fully expected to go further. They believed that this was never going to end and that was the cool thing about them. They were just a great bunch of teammates. They were surprised they lost."

Last season, Central won its first district title and advanced to a regional final before losing to Grove City 10-3 to finish 24-8.

Thomas pitchers Drew Taylor and Ben Miller combined to allow seven hits and did not allow any Warhawks to reach third base until the seventh inning, when senior Corey VanDevelde singled and later moved to third, where he was left stranded.

Miller added a two-run single for the Cardinals in the fifth.

Senior John Whitaker, who saw limited time on the mound this season because of a right arm injury, pitched a complete game, allowing eight hits, striking out seven and walking two.

"I'm so proud of our team and how far we've come," senior outfielder and pitcher Connor Bush said. "We set the bar high last year and we lived up to it this year. We've set the bar even higher, so every year they have to expect to get this far."

Central tied Olentangy Liberty for fifth in the OCC-Cardinal Division at 7-7, behind Olentangy (10-4), Dublin Jerome (9-5), Marysville (8-5) and Westerville North (8-6) and ahead of Dublin Scioto (6-7) and Westerville South (0-14).

The Warhawks lose 11 seniors, including eight who were in the starting lineup against Thomas.

Senior Connor Sitz was Central's No. 1 pitcher and pitched against Pickerington North. An Ohio University recruit, he was 8-2 with a 2.19 ERA and 58 strikeouts and batted .357 with 16 RBI. He was named district and league Player of the Year.

Senior outfielder Matthew Bracale, who batted .363 with 21 RBI, also was first-team all-league and all-district.

Senior catcher Matt Knapp, who batted .389 and led the team with 22 RBI, was second-team all-league and senior second baseman Evan Conard (.342) was honorable mention all-league.

VanDevelde (OF), who led the team with a .398 batting average, was honorable mention all-district.

Senior third baseman Cameron Box batted .322 with 19 RBI and senior second baseman Dylan West led the team with 27 runs and 22 stolen bases.

"I'm proud of all the seniors and everybody this year," senior outfielder Greg Behan said. "We're really just all brothers. I'm proud of the way we played, the way we battled every game, the way we came to play and wanted to win. It's something that most teams don't have. It's something that I will remember for the rest of my life."

"This is a special group," Keifer said. "It's not about the wins and the losses. Being able to extend the season with those guys was more important than the trophies you get. I just love these guys. They're such a great group. They pull for one another so much. I'm just really happy that they were able to call themselves district runners-up."

Expected to return are juniors Sawyer Allen (C), Tyler Bertelsen (P/OF), Nick Conkins (INF), Anthony Kinkel (INF/P), Bobby Spiers (OF) and Joe Swisher (INF/P) and freshman Nick Buchanan (P/INF/OF).