Austin Becker of the Big Walnut High School baseball team knows full well the legacy he and his 11 senior teammates intend to uphold after the Golden Eagles won a third consecutive Division I district title last season.
Becker, a starting pitcher/designated hitter who has committed to Vanderbilt, believes the leadership and talent is there again to go deep into the postseason and challenge for the OCC-Capital Division championship.
"That's important to me," Becker said. "I know I'm not going to get this time back. ... I feel really good. It's actually the best shape I've been in as far as my arm and body."
Becker will anchor the pitching rotation, which was dominant last season with 2017 graduate Henry von Hollen, a first-team all-league and second-team all district selection who is playing at Wright State.
Big Walnut expects to be just as strong this season, second-year coach Jack Schone said.
Seniors Colten Lee, Austin Krinn, Noah Sprowls and Cale Sherbourne all are expected to get starts as well as pitch in relief. Juniors Wes Coey, C.J. Rockwell, Nathan Lawyer, Carson Becker and Ryne Conley also will be in the mix.
"Austin will carry the load as we look for someone to step up and fill the void last year von Hollen leaves," said Schone, whose team opened March 27 by scoring three runs in the seventh inning to defeat host DeSales 8-7.
Sherbourne had the game-tying single in the seventh inning, and Sprowls scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball. Lawyer and seniors Conner Gerren, Jackson Seiple and Krinn each added two hits. Gerren and senior Jake Foster each had two RBI.
"We have a group that feels that every time they hit the field they have a chance to win," said Schone, whose squad opens league play Monday, April 2, at Canal Winchester. "With 12 seniors, I look for our kids not to panic. Last year was last year, and it means nothing this year other than a talking point."
Big Walnut finished 23-6 overall last season after losing to Gahanna 11-0 in six innings in a regional semifinal. The Golden Eagles beat top-seeded Grove City 6-1 in a district final.
In the OCC-Capital, Big Walnut went 11-4 to tie New Albany for second behind Canal Winchester (13-2).
Eight of this year's seniors saw significant playing time last season, including Becker, Sprowls (shortstop); Lee and Krinn (second base); Foster (third base); and Gerren, Sherbourne and Zach Rines in the outfield.
Junior Sam Medley takes over at catcher, replacing 2017 graduate Parker Imertreijs, who was second-team all-league and second-team all-district.
"The concern I have every year is simple," Schone said. "How will they go to battle for each other? Will they accept roles they really don't want? Will they play for the team and not themselves?"
Softball team expects to reload
With five returning starters, the softball team expects to compete for an OCC-Capital championship and make another run at a district championship.
The Golden Eagles finished last season at 16-8 overall following the 2-1, eight-inning loss to Bloom-Carrol in a Division II district semifinal.
"We have a good mixture of youth and senior leadership," said coach Jeff Hatfield, who begins his 12th season. "Obviously, having the middle infield, where we've had to replace people, is a little tough. But we're a very athletic team, and we have some speed."
The Golden Eagles opened the season with 12 hits in a 9-4 loss at DeSales on March 27. Sophomore catcher Molly Sharpe was 3-for-4, sophomore third baseman Haley Krinn was 2-for-4 with a double and senior pitcher Stacey Walters was 2-for-4 with a double.
"We hit the ball really well, which usually is not the case for us early in the season," Hatfield said. "It just wasn't timely for us."
The five returning starters include senior first baseman Alexyss Bullock, senior outfielders Emma Schwinne and Meredith Thomas, junior outfielder Jocelyn Lucas and Walters, who also plays outfield.
Thomas, who was second-team all-district and all-league, hit .400 with 20 RBI. Lucas (honorable mention all-league) batted .390 with two triples and 13 RBI, and Walters (special mention all-league) was 6-3 with a 3.56 ERA, 52 strikeouts and 44 walks in 55 innings and hit .392 with a home run and 19 RBI.
Walters will be the No. 1 starter in the circle with the departure of 2017 graduate Alex Thomas, who was second-team all-state and first-team all-district and all-league. She led the squad both in hitting and in pitching. She batted .521 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 25 RBI. In the circle, she was 10-5 with a 2.57 ERA, 89 strikeouts and 30 walks in 100 2/3 innings.
"Stacey is ready to step into that role," Hatfield said. "The big issue is who's going to be my No. 2, and that's between (sophomore) Autumn Imhoff and (senior) Vanessa Sharpe."
Big Walnut also must replace a couple other key graduation losses in catcher Jessica Coletta (first-team all-district, second-team all-league), who hit .408 with a home run and 10 RBI, and third baseman Taryn Hammond (second-team all-district and all-league), who batted .400 with 12 RBI.
Freshman Arielle Brown and sophomore Maggie Blackburn are competing for time at second; sophomore Alyssa Tarney and Brown at shortstop; and junior Taylor Schulz in the infield and sophomore Carly Becker in the outfield.
"We've really been stressing our fundamentals defensively," Hatfield said. "I told the girls we can't be giving teams extra outs."
Hatfield expects defending champion Groveport to be the team to beat in the OCC-Capital. The Cruisers went 10-0 last season, finishing ahead of Big Walnut (7-3), Newark (7-3), Canal Winchester (3-7), New Albany (3-7) and Franklin Heights (0-10).
March 27 -- at DeSales
March 29 -- vs. Fredericktown
March 31 -- at Hilliard Bradley (DH)
*April 2 -- at Canal Winchester
*April 4 -- vs. Canal Winchester
*April 6 -- vs. New Albany
*April 9 -- at New Albany
*April 11 -- at Newark
*April 13 -- vs. Newark
April 14 -- at Olentangy Liberty with Watkins Memorial
*April 16 -- at Franklin Heights
*April 18 -- vs. Franklin Heights
*April 20 -- vs. Groveport
April 21 -- at Upper Arlington
*April 23 -- at Groveport
*April 25 -- at Canal Winchester
April 26 -- vs. Sparta Highland
*April 27 -- vs. New Albany
*April 30 -- at Newark
*May 2 -- at Franklin Heights
*May 4 -- vs. Groveport
May 5 -- at Dublin Jerome
March 26 -- at DeSales
March 31 -- at Sparta Highland
April 2 -- at Olentangy
April 4 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
April 5 -- vs. Whitehall
April 7 -- vs. Dublin Coffman and Hartley
April 9 -- at Mount Vernon
*April 11 -- at Canal Winchester
*April 12 -- vs. New Albany
April 14 -- at Worthington Kilbourne with Grove City
*April 16 -- at Newark
*April 18 -- at Franklin Heights
*April 19 -- vs. Groveport
April 20 -- vs. Westerville North
April 21 -- at Westerville South with Hilliard Bradley
*April 23 -- vs. Canal Winchester
April 24 -- vs. Whetstone
*April 25 -- at New Albany
*April 26 -- vs. Newark
*April 30 -- vs. Franklin Heights
*May 2 -- at Groveport
May 3 -- vs. Licking Valley
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis and track & field teams:
April 3 -- At Gahanna
*April 5 -- Home vs. Westerville North
April 7 -- At Marysville
April 3 -- Home vs. Marysville
*April 5 -- At Westerville North
April 7 -- At Bexley
April 3 -- At Westerville Central
April 4 -- At Hilliard Davidson
*April 5 -- At Canal Winchester
April 6 -- At Mount Vernon
April 7 -- At Reynoldsburg
TRACK & FIELD
April 4 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
April 5 -- Hornet Relays at Licking Heights
April 7 -- Big Walnut Eagle Relays