Matt Walters of the Pickerington High School Central baseball team has made his living as a power hitter, and the first three games of this season showed why.
The senior outfielder blasted a grand slam to highlight a seven-run eighth inning March 25 as Central defeated Knights Baseball of Nashville, Tennessee, 13-6, and two days later in the Tigers' home opener, Walters' leadoff home run kick-started a 12-2, six-inning rout of Watkins Memorial.
"(I) attack pitches I know I can hit and try to set the table for everybody else," Walters said, describing his near-lifelong role as a leadoff hitter.
But the seminal moment in Walters' relationship with coach Ray Noe, at least as far as Noe is concerned, centered around a sacrifice bunt during a 2-1 win at Dublin Coffman on March 29, 2016, Noe's third game with the Tigers.
"I asked him to sacrifice bunt in a situation and he was upset that I did that because I put it on, and then I took it off," Noe said. "We talked about why he was upset, because he is a team player. He never will get mad at me or any of our staff for telling him to do certain things. That is not who he is as a player.
"He wanted to have it on the whole time so he could find that pitch that he could bunt or get it down successfully to move guys up, rather than be in a position with one or two strikes where he only has one or two more opportunities. It was a brilliant conversation. It was a teaching moment for him to know I had faith in him -- I know he can hit, so that's why I took it off -- but as a coach, I learned this kid was thinking all the time.
"From that point on, we've been like peanut butter and jelly."
Through 14 games, Walters had a .432 batting average with 19 hits, second on the team to Trenton Gillison's 25, and two of Central's three home runs. Gillison had the other.
The Tigers were 12-3 overall and 5-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Grove City on April 19.
Walters is in his third year as a full-time starter after dressing as a freshman but not playing. He has been a leadoff hitter almost all of that time, except for when he was third in the lineup for most of last season, when he was named second-team all-state and Central finished as a Division I district runner-up.
"I saw a lot more offspeed pitches (batting third). They pitch you a lot differently in the 3-hole than in the leadoff spot," Walters said.
"I felt comfortable there. It didn't take much time at all.
"Coach Noe and I talked in the offseason about where I'd like to hit and I'd feel the most comfortable. It's the leadoff spot for me."
Walters said his favorite pitch is a fastball middle-in and about thigh-high, and his leadoff home run against Watkins Memorial was in that spot. His grand slam in Tennessee was on a curveball middle-in.
"Matt is just a big-time competitor who makes winning plays," said senior shortstop and pitcher Jacob Lott, who has shared captain's duties with Walters since the start of their junior season. They also are teammates with the Midwest Marlins summer team.
"He's always been at the high end as far as his baseball IQ is concerned," Lott said. "He sees defenses well and he keeps them off-guard because he can lay down a bunt or play small ball. Matt gets us started. That's exactly what we need him to do."
Girls lacrosse team
trying to hit stride
Two wins last week helped the girls lacrosse team put aside at least some of the sting of an 0-6 start.
Central edged Coffman 16-12 on April 11 and beat Hilliard Davidson 18-7 on April 13, breaking into the win column after losing three games by four goals or fewer to start the year.
Lauren Morris scored six goals against the Shamrocks and singlehandedly outscored the Wildcats with eight.
"We are really beginning to mesh," coach Maggie Bornhorst said.
"All seven attack and midfield starters (Irene Bowen, Carly Clinger, Maddi Hyer, Megan Killilea, Morrell, Morris and Murphy) have contributed with goals and assists so far.
"Our goal is to keep getting better and rebound off of a bumpy and uncharacteristic start to the season. We really feel that we have a lot to prove coming off of last year's performance (and losing nine players to graduation), and after working out a few kinks, (we) can be a contender in the postseason."
The Tigers were 2-6 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Central before playing Gahanna on April 18.
Morris had 40 of Central's 84 goals through eight games, ahead of Hyer (13), Clinger (11) and Morrell (11).
Softball team shows
power in OCC wins
The softball team started its OCC-Ohio schedule with two big wins last week, scoring two runs in the seventh inning to defeat Pickerington North 8-6 on April 12 and then riding home runs from Sophia Slack and Zoie Smith to a 10-5 win over previously undefeated Lancaster on April 13.
Slack's two-run home run in the seventh at North broke a 6-all tie. Kallie Boren added a two-run homer in the third.
Smith's home run was the first in her varsity career.
Central was 11-1 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Grove City on April 19.
The Tigers had another dramatic win earlier in the week, scoring two runs in the seventh to edge visiting Upper Arlington 7-6 on April 10. Kristen Bales' solo home run in the fifth started the rally as Central scored the final three runs of the game.
Bales completed a two-homer week with a grand slam April 15 in Central's 5-0 win over Westerville North.