Westerville South High School baseball player Jake Robinson is determined to make the most of his senior season with the Wildcats.
After being part of a team that was 0-14 last year in the OCC-Cardinal Division, Robinson has helped South move up the standings this season.
Before playing Westerville North on May 8, South was tied with North for third in the league at 7-6, behind Dublin Jerome (10-2) and Hilliard Darby (10-3).
The Wildcats defeated Jerome 6-5 on May 1.
Seeded 15th for the Division I district tournament, the Wildcats open the postseason Wednesday, May 15, by playing host to 23rd-seeded Hilliard Bradley or 26th-seeded Upper Arlington in the second round. The winner plays sixth-seeded Gahanna or 41st-seeded Westland in a semifinal May 20.
"We're a completely different team now," Robinson said. "We've grown up. We're hitting the ball, we're pitching the ball, we don't make errors anymore. We have a shot. We're so much better than we were last year. We've finally put it all together."
That progress was evident in the Wildcats' 2-1 home win over Westerville Central on May 2.
Robinson pitched a complete game and scored what proved to be the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Robinson singled, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error. When senior Taylor Zachary (C) popped out to first baseman Andy Oppliger in foul territory, Robinson tagged up and slid into home, jarring the ball loose from catcher Sawyer Allen to score the go-ahead run.
"It was a close play," Robinson said. "I just slid hard, went hard. I go hard 100 percent."
Central scored an unearned run in the top of the first then was shut out by Robinson the rest of the way. He allowed three hits, struck out four and walked five.
"Jake is having a great senior year," coach Tim Bates said. "If you're going to have a great year, you want it to be your senior year. ... He has control of his curveball and he's throwing a changeup this year for the first time, so that gives him confidence."
South tied the game at 1 in the fifth on left fielder Josh Tischler's single that scored Patrick Orr (INF/P).
Zachary, who moved in from California before his junior year, has been impressed with his team's turnaround and said the keys to improvement have been: "Chemistry, aggressiveness and just the mentality of knowing your skills on the entire team and embracing that."
The Wildcats completed a regular-season sweep of the Warhawks. South also won at Central 7-5 in nine innings April 26.
"Last year there was a difference," Bates said. "If we got down early, if it looked like calls were going against us, they would just try to get through the game. These guys have battled. They're going to battle back the whole time. That's what a year of experience in the OCC does."
Central looking to regain punch
Central enters the district tournament looking to improve its offense.
Before losing to Darby 10-5 on May 3, the Warhawks had scored two runs in their previous three games.
"The good news is we're doing everything right except scoring some runs," coach Jeff Keifer said. "We're playing good defense, our attitude is great and our pitching is lights out. The kids haven't quit on us, so everything is working. We just have to get a couple timely hits. We're doing four things right and one thing wrong."
Central, the 19th seed, opens the tournament with a second-round game Wednesday, May 15, at 14th-seeded Marysville. The winner plays 10th-seeded St. Charles, 20th-seeded Westerville North or 21st-seeded Dublin Scioto in a semifinal May 21.
Keifer said Tyler Bertelsen pitched well in the second loss to South, allowing two runs and seven hits while striking four and walking none.
Mason Wamsley (INF/P) scored the unearned run in the first.
"As a fan, it was probably a fun game to watch, but we've had so many of those and that's what makes it so hard," Keifer said. "If that was just one game where we played hard and played well, pitched well and just came up a run short, it would be OK. It's uncanny how many times where we've been in a situation like that."
The Warhawks split two games with North, losing 5-3 on April 22 and winning 1-0 on April 30 behind Joe Swisher's four-hitter.
North looking forward to district tournament
North coach Sean Ring said his team is looking forward to the district tournament.
The Warriors open at home against Scioto on Monday, May 13, with the winner playing at St. Charles in the second round Wednesday, May 15.
"With the tournament drawing near, we are looking to find the guys who are the hottest and will give us the best chances for success," Ring said. "The tournament starts an exciting new season where all teams' records are washed away and anything can happen. We have a group this year that I believe can do a lot of damage by scoring a lot of runs so long as we play solid defense."
The Warriors were looking to finish with a winning league record. They were 7-6 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing South on May 8.