Bill Welsh is looking forward to his latest coaching challenge.
Hired last July, he is preparing for his first season as coach of the Whitehall-Yearling High School baseball team.
Welsh replaced Dave Hutchison, who retired following last season.
"We're definitely still in the feeling out process and seeing who fits best where and how that's all going to work out," Welsh said. "In the few times that we have been able to get outside, we've been able to try some new things and seeing where everybody belongs. The kids have been great. The parents have been great."
Welsh coached at Madison Plains the past two seasons, finishing 5-16 a year ago and 1-18 in 2011.
Last season, Whitehall was 8-15 overall and 2-12 in the MSL-Ohio Division. After defeating Sparta Highland 5-3 in the first round of the Division II district tournament, the Rams lost to Lakewood 4-3 in the second round.
Whitehall opens at home against Fairfield Christian on Wednesday, April 3, and begins league play two days later at home against Lakewood.
The Rams return several players with varsity experience, including sophomore Cameron Barker (3B), who last season was second on the team in hitting at .351 and led in RBI with 17. He was honorable mention all-district.
Other top returnees are junior Nick Wright (1B/P), who had 14 RBI, and senior Logan Webb (P/SS/OF), who had 10 RBI.
"We have a new coach and we feel like we're going to be really good," Wright said. "Coach has taught us a lot. He's real cool and everybody likes him. Everybody gets along with him."
Also returning are senior Josh Horn (2B) and juniors Noah Jay (OF), Cody Koons (P/C), Cameron Dickerson-Needham (P/OF) and Myles Russell (P/SS).
Other players are seniors Brandon Bogardus (OF) and Peter Estrada (OF), juniors Paul Goldsmith (RF/2B), James Holley (3B) and Noah Wiley (1B) and sophomore Nick Wise (P/utility player).
Welsh expects Webb, Dickerson-Needham and Wise to lead the pitching staff.
"We're very young," Welsh said. "We have four seniors on the team right now and a couple of them (Bogardus and Estrada) didn't play last year, so we're only returning a couple seniors (Horn and Webb), so we're real junior-heavy. We have a couple sophomores, too."
The Rams lost four players from a year ago to graduation, including Taylor Hutchison (SS/2B), who now plays at Ohio Wesleyan. The former coach's son, he was first-team all-league and all-district after leading Whitehall in hitting (.526), runs (27), stolen bases (21), doubles (9) and triples (3).
Last season in the MSL-Ohio, Whitehall finished eighth behind Granville (13-1), Newark Catholic (12-2), Licking Valley (9-5), Columbus Academy (6-8), Bexley (5-9), Lakewood (5-9) and Heath (4-10).
"I think we can be in the mix in the league," Welsh said. "We need to execute and do the small stuff. That's really what we've been harping on with them: Being able to execute, make the plays that we need to make and not walk guys. If we can pitch, I think we should be able to compete with anybody in our league."
Softball team has new coach
The softball team also has a new coach as Brian Anderson has replaced Lisa Morelli, who resigned last year following 12 seasons.
The Rams finished 6-18 overall last season, losing to Buckeye Valley 8-7 in the first round of the Division II district tournament, and went 2-10 in the MSL-Ohio.
Anderson has been involved in club softball for about 15 years and is a coach in the Buckeye Heat program.
"High school sports is a big deal and I wanted to be a part of that," Anderson said. "I wanted to run a program and to be part of a community that would get behind the girls, and I thought this was a good fit and here I am."
Whitehall returns five starters, including the senior battery of pitcher Danielle Farnlacher and catcher Delina Farnlacher, who are twins.
Both will be four-year starters and were honorable mention all-league last season.
"Coach is a really nice guy so far and he's working really hard to make us better," Danielle said. "The upperclassmen have to do a better job of stepping up and taking their role as leaders for this team."
The other returning starters are senior Amber Lucas (2B/SS), who will be a four-year starter, junior Summer Rains (OF) and sophomore Nicole Barber (3B/OF).
Also back are junior Madison Pharo (1B/P) and sophomores Samantha Day (OF) and Morgan Jones (3B/OF).
Other players are seniors Melanie Gilmer (1B/P) and Tabetha Baumann (OF), sophomore Morgan Jones (3B/OF) and freshmen Hannah Fetters (utility player), Kenedi Neale (C) and Brooklyn Rayburn (2B/SS).
"There's some talent here and there's some rough edges that need smoothed out, and that's what I'm trying to do," Anderson said. "The biggest issue is just creating depth in the program. One downfall is they have not had the numbers to have a j.v. team in recent years and I think that hurts."
With 23 players on the roster, Anderson expects to field a j.v. team this spring.
The Rams open Saturday, March 30, at Reynoldsburg and their league opener is April 5 at home against Lakewood.
Last season, Whitehall finished sixth in the MSL-Ohio behind Licking Valley (11-1), Granville (10-2), Lakewood (9-3), Heath (6-6) and Newark Catholic (4-8) and ahead of Bexley (0-12).
"Our goal is just to get better every day," Anderson said. "Right now that's it. It's a one day at a time thing."