With eight returning starters, the Delaware Hayes High School softball team has the talent to produce a special season, according to 10th-year coach Mark Thomas.

But one thing the majority of the Pacers haven't experienced is playing in a Division I district final, which Thomas hopes will change this spring.

"These girls are a tight group and this could be a real interesting season," Thomas said. "With eight starters back, we can be special and maybe do some damage in the tournament like we have in past seasons. We only lost one (player to graduation in Alyssa Durbin)."

Delaware played in three consecutive district finals from 2013-15 before losing in district semifinals the past two seasons, including a 13-1 setback to Teays Valley last year.

Among the returnees are three three-year letterwinners in seniors Amaia Daniel (SS/C), Audrey Hannahs (LF) and Mallory Stonebraker (1B) and a pair of two-year letterwinners in juniors Chloe Barton (3B) and Lexi Mattix (2B).

"Amaia will be our leader again, Mallory will provide power and Audrey brings a ton of experience to the outfield," Thomas said. "I'm expecting Daniel to have a really good offensive year, as well as Mallory, Lexi and (junior catcher) Bobbi Adams.

"Chloe has a very good glove and arm at the hot corner and also has good speed, and Lexi has very good speed to cover the holes and is a great leadoff slapper."

The Pacers were scheduled to open March 29 against Hilliard Darby in an OCC-Cardinal Division game after games against Watterson and West Jefferson were rained out March 27 and 28.

Last season, Daniel led the Pacers in batting average (.552), runs (29), RBI (34), home runs (5) and doubles (13). Stonebraker batted .484 with 13 runs and 23 RBI, and Mattix batted .386 and scored 22 runs.

Adams hit .429 with 16 RBI, Barton batted .368 and Hannahs batted .367.

Daniel was first-team all-district and all-league and Stonebraker was first-team all-league, as the Pacers finished 14-8 overall and tied Darby for third (7-5) in the OCC-Cardinal behind Hilliard Bradley (12-0) and Dublin Scioto (9-3).

Also returning are juniors Alex Armstrong (CF) and Laiha Slayton (designated player/1B) and sophomore pitcher Haley Osborne. Armstrong batted .431 with 25 runs, 16 RBI and 10 doubles, Slayton batted .375 and Osborne batted .357 and was 11-7 with a 2.77 ERA in 98 2/3 innings.

Armstrong and Osborne were second-team all-league, Barton was special mention and Mattix was honorable mention.

"Alex has made big strides since last season and has become a very good player, and Laiha is a good hitter who brings experience to the plate," Thomas said. "Haley was our No. 1 pitcher and had a good year as a freshman and has improved and is ready to take control of the circle. If she can keep the ball low, hit her spots and let the defense do its job this year, we will be a lot better team."

Senior Jillian Haley also will see time at pitcher. Senior Megan Shearer (RF) is a returning letterwinner who possesses speed and a good arm, according to Thomas.

Completing the roster are seniors Abby Lewis (OF/2B) and Alison Gemberling (OF).

"Megan is battling for a spot in right field, Abby will help us on the offensive side and Alison is very athletic and will help us as a courtesy runner," Thomas said.

Baseball team feeling optimistic

Eight players who earned starts last season have returned for the baseball team, which is excited about its chances to improve on a 12-13 finish.

"I think this team will surprise a lot of people with their relentless effort and determination," fifth-year coach Ryan Montgomery said. "Our strengths will be on the mound, and defensively we should be extremely solid at every position. I also think that we present a very balanced hitting lineup and will showcase more team speed and be able to utilize that on the base paths."

The pitching rotation is expected to be led by seniors Jason Cross and Nick Neuhart and junior Mason Davis, who had a 4.30 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 35 innings last season. Cross had a 4.70 ERA in 41 innings.

"Nick will be a top pitcher for us and will be counted on in a lot of league games," Montgomery said. "He throws three pitches extremely well. Nick will be continuing his baseball career at Methodist University. Mason, who also plays shortstop, is a third-year starter and one of our top pitchers.

"Jason is a third-year varsity guy who is looking to build on a breakout junior year on the mound. He has good velocity and is excellent at keeping hitters off balance with four solid pitches he can go to at any time. He will play at the University of Northwestern Ohio next season."

Cross will play third base and in the outfield when he's not on the mound.

Junior Matt Gladden and sophomore Cory Richardson also will be starting pitchers.

Seniors Cole Barton (2B), Dominic Byers (3B/SS), Zach Miller (RF) and Ryan Daughenbaugh (CF) add experience to the lineup. Barton is expected to bat leadoff, with Byers second.

Byers is a three-year letterwinner while Barton, Daughenbaugh and Miller will be earning their third letter this season.

"Dominic has committed to play at Wingate University," Montgomery said. "He was our leading hitter last season and we are looking for big things from him at the plate again this year. He also is extremely talented in the infield. He has a great arm and will also pitch for us."

Byers was honorable mention all-district and all-league last season after hitting .446 with 15 runs and 12 RBI.

"Cole Barton has great speed, covers a lot of ground and is a solid fielder. He is an extremely dynamic player and should spark us at leadoff," Montgomery said. "Zach is moving from left field to right field and has a great arm and tremendous strength. He will be a middle of the lineup hitter. Zach will be continuing his baseball career at Wittenberg.

"Ryan Daughenbaugh is making the switch from right field to center field. He has great range in the outfield and can track down a ball in either gap. Ryan has the strongest arm of any of our outfielders. Ryan will also be a big contributor at the plate because he has power to all fields."

Other returnees include senior Logan Keeder (C) and junior Zach Price (P/1B/SS).

"Zach is making the switch from shortstop to first base and also is one of our top relievers," Montgomery said. "He is a great hitter with tremendous power and is a guy that can change the outlook of a game with one swing of the bat."

Senior Isaiah Moore (LF/DH), sophomore Alex Kelly (C/1B/DH) and juniors Ryan Murphy (P/3B) and Brandon Flannery (P/2B/3B) are others who will see significant time.

"Isaiah missed last season with an injury," Montgomery said. "He has a ton of power in his bat. Alex can flat-out swing it and knows the hitting zone extremely well. Ryan will be one of our go-to relievers."

The Pacers will be looking to improve on their 2-10 record in the OCC-Cardinal, as they finished seventh behind champion Darby (11-1). They open league play Monday, April 2, at home against Darby.

Delaware's scheduled opener March 27 against Saline (Michigan) was postponed by rain.

"This is a group that won't give in or ever give up," Montgomery said. "They are extremely determined and that could be seen all offseason with the attitude and effort they put in every day to getting better."

Girls lacrosse team seeks improvement

The girls lacrosse team returns 15 players from last season when it finished 3-14 overall and 0-6 in the OCC-Cardinal.

"We're working on fundamentals a lot and I am really pushing the juniors and sophomores hard to see the improvement this season that they can carry over and build onto next season," said first-year coach Katie Barnhart, a Delaware graduate who played in the program. "The goal is to get this program to be competitive every season."

Barnhart replaced Randy Gatenbee, who coached four seasons. Gatenbee did not think he would be available to coach this season, but now is an assistant for Barnhart.

The Pacers were 2-1 before playing Big Walnut on March 29. They defeated Westerville South 15-1 on March 20, lost to Westerville Central 6-5 on March 24 and beat Bexley 15-11 on March 27.

Delaware opens league play Thursday, April 5, at defending champion Thomas, which went 6-0 in the league last season.

The Pacers have 10 seniors, including seven returnees in attackers Sydney Henderson, Olivia Shroyer and Jillian Ulmer, midfielders Ashley Gebhart, Lydia Maley and C.J. Saxby and defender Erika Mueller.

Returning juniors are Piper Adkins, Josie Derstine and Myiah Grossman in the midfield, Sophia Fasone and Libbie Price on defense and Morgan Miller on the attack.

Returning sophomores are midfielder Nicole Klabus and defender Elissia Willis.

Although Barnhart still was seeking combinations and rotations in the lineup, freshmen Bella McCloskey (midfielder), Libby Tope (defender) and Gabrielle Wreckerley (goalkeeper) already have earned starts.

Against Bexley, Derstine, Miller and Saxby all scored three goals and Ulmer, Shroyer and Adkins all scored two. Wreckerley made seven saves.

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek

Schedules

BASEBALL

March 29 -- vs. Cardington

March 31 -- vs. Franklin Heights (DH)

*April 2 -- vs. Hilliard Darby

*April 4 -- at Hilliard Darby

*April 6 -- at Dublin Scioto

April 7 -- at Central Crossing (DH)

*April 9 -- vs. Dublin Scioto

*April 11 -- at Thomas Worthington

April 12 -- vs. Mansfield Madison

*April 16 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley

*April 18 -- at Hilliard Bradley

*April 19 -- vs. Thomas Worthington

*April 20 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

*April 23 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne

*April 25- at Dublin Jerome

*April 27 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

April 28 -- vs. Marion Harding (DH)

May 1 -- at Olentangy Liberty

May 3 -- vs. North Union

May 4 -- vs. Ready

May 5 -- vs. Licking Heights (DH)

GIRLS LACROSSE

March 20 -- at Westerville South

March 24 -- vs. Westerville Central

March 27 -- vs. Bexley

March 29 -- vs. Big Walnut

*April 5 -- at Thomas Worthington

*April 10 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

*April 12 -- vs. Hilliard Darby

*April 17 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

April 21 -- Hinsdale (Ill.) Central and Stow-Munroe Falls in Hannigan-Galipault Tournament at Thomas Worthington

*April 24 -- at Hilliard Bradley

*April 26 -- vs. Dublin Scioto

May 3 -- vs. Centennial

May 5 -- at Chillicothe

May 7 -- at Hartley

May 10 -- vs. Buckeye Valley

May 12 -- at Bellbrook

SOFTBALL

*March 29 -- vs. Hilliard Darby

March 30 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

April 1 -- Saegertown (Pa.) at Cocoa Beach (Fla.)

April 2 -- Passaic (N.J.) and Louisville (Ky.) Fairdale at Cocoa Beach

April 3 -- at Cocoa Beach (DH)

April 5 -- Louisville (Ky.) Fairdale at Cocoa Beach

*April 9 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley

*April 11 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

*April 12 -- at Dublin Jerome

April 16 -- at Olentangy Orange

April 17 -- vs. Westerville Central

*April 18 -- at Hilliard Darby

*April 19 -- vs. Dublin Scioto

*April 23 -- vs. Thomas Worthington

April 24 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

*April 25 -- at Hilliard Bradley

*April 26 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne

*April 27 -- at Thomas Worthington

*April 30 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

*May 3 -- at Dublin Scioto

May 5 -- vs. Newark Catholic (DH)

*League contest