Despite losing four starters from last season, including two who are now playing for Purdue University, Hilliard Darby High School baseball coach Chris Fugitt thinks his squad has enough talent to be among the top teams in the district again this year.
"Oh, we definitely have the pieces to the puzzle, but now we've got to figure out how they fit together and make sure they are ready to compete at their highest level on a consistent basis," said Fugitt, who is in his 21st season. "We've got a good core group returning and I think we're going to have some of the younger guys step up this season."
Last season, the Panthers won the OCC-Cardinal Division championship and a Division I district title before losing to Olentangy Orange 5-0 in a regional semifinal to finish 26-4 overall. It marked their third consecutive season with 20 or more wins and fourth in five years.
The returnees include seniors Chandler Barlow (LHP/1B), Tyler Chumita (SS), Ben Gbur (CF), Clay Strausbaugh (C), Brice Stultz (LHP/1B) and Cameron Tackett (3B).
Chumita, who played third base last year, batted .420 with 33 runs scored and 17 RBI and was named first-team all-league and all-district, while Stultz (.430, 24 runs, 26 RBI; 3-1, 3.55 ERA in 22 2/3 innings) was second-team all-league and all-district.
Gbur (.372, 28 runs, 20 RBI; 3-0, 2.06 ERA in 17 innings) and Strausbaugh (.377, 16 runs, 25 RBI) both were special mention all-league and Barlow (5-0, 1.71 ERA in 45 innings) was honorable mention all-league.
"Ben, Chandler and Brice all played basketball, so they're a bit behind right now," said Fugitt, whose team was 4-2 after beating Delaware 10-0 in its league opener April 2. "But they'll catch up pretty quick. They're our top three guys in the rotation this year. I think Ben will be our No. 1, with Chandler and Brice right there as well. They all have to step up on the mound this season because we don't have that dominant guy like we did last season with (2017 graduate) Cory Brooks."
Brooks, who also played right field, is now at Purdue, along with 2017 graduate Justin Fugitt, the coach's son. Last season, Brooks hit .375 with 20 runs and 29 RBI, went 10-1 on the mound with a 1.01 ERA in 69 innings and was named league Player of the Year and first-team all-district, while Fugitt, a second baseman, batted .357 with 36 runs and 28 RBI and was first-team all-league and all-district.
The Panthers also lost starters Daniel Bibler (LF) and Luke Morris (SS) to graduation.
Senior Patrick Burke and junior Seth Schmidt also are expected to be in the pitching rotation, while possible relievers include Barlow, Strausbaugh, senior Ian Coverstone, juniors Scott Bugg, Grant Hollinger and Kyle Miller and sophomore Nick Skelskey.
When not on the mound, Burke could be in the outfield with Gbur, Coverstone, Hollinger or junior Mason Bowers, while Coverstone or junior Drew Snyder likely will play second base.
Also expected to contribute are seniors Ryan Eatherton (C), Tim Hales (C/1B) and Tyler Messer (C) and junior Jackson Buty (OF).
"We've got some guys swinging it well in the first week in Stultz, Gbur, Strausbaugh and Tackett," said Fugitt, whose team went 11-1 in the OCC-Cardinal last year. "That's a good sign against some very strong competition right out of the gate. But we will have to manufacture runs this season, to go along with playing strong defense. We're not going to have a guy go out there and strike out 10 batters a game, so we need to be scrappy."
The Panthers opened March 24 with a 5-2 loss at Upper Arlington. They bounced back to defeat Washington Court House Miami Trace 22-1 on March 28 at V.A. Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe and visiting Massillon Jackson 2-1 on March 30 before splitting a pair of games on March 31, losing to host Olentangy Liberty 8-2 and defeating Findlay 11-1.
Softball team has experienced lineup
The softball team has returned nine players who earned starts last season when it finished 15-10 overall after losing to Mount Vernon 8-2 in a Division I district semifinal.
It was a good turnaround season for the Panthers, who had finished 10-16 in 2016.
"We improved a lot last year and I'm really expecting that to continue," fourth-year coach Shawn Papp said. "I've been coaching this year's seniors since back in middle school and we're really excited about our potential this year."
The returnees are seniors Kaitlyn Bowman (2B), Mikayla Kesel (1B), Madi Lightfoot (OF), Bri Pizzurro (3B) and Payton Senter (OF) and juniors Maddi Clark (P), Tegan Cortelletti (SS), Molly Holdren (OF) and Sydney McCreary (C).
"Kaitlyn is a fourth-year varsity starter and a good leader who has worked really hard in the offseason with her consistency in hitting," Papp said. "She's going to play Division II softball next season at Slippery Rock and we really think she's going to step up to the plate this year.
"Bri also is a fourth-year starter, but she was slowed by an injury last year and didn't come around until late in the season. She's a power hitter who is going to have a bounce-back year."
Last season, Cortelletti batted .607 and was first-team all-league and all-district and second-team all-state. Also earning all-league honors were Kesel (first team), Clark (second team), Senter (second team) and Holdren (special mention).
"Tegan is an Ohio State recruit with tremendous speed," Papp said. "She's a left-handed slapper who has been timed from home to first in 2.53 seconds and is the fastest in central Ohio. She's also one of the hardest workers I've ever been around. Good enough isn't good enough for her.
"Mikayla is a left-handed slapper with decent speed who hit .420. She's a tall girl with a great stride and is a patient hitter. She will play at Urbana next year.
"We've got some speed and good gloves and I think that Maddi is ready for a big year in the circle. She's a third-year varsity pitcher who will be our No. 1 for the second year."
Also back is senior Maddie Rose (1B). Completing the roster are junior Grace Hill (OF), sophomores Lilly Garnet-Brown (INF), Hannah Hutchison (OF) and Lilliana Williams (C) and freshman Jordyn Anderson (P).
The Panthers opened March 31 by splitting a pair of games, losing to host Davidson 6-5 and beating Watkins Memorial 7-4. Games against Groveport (March 27) and Newark (March 30) and an OCC-Cardinal contest at Delaware (March 29) were postponed because of bad weather and, as of last week, had not been rescheduled.
Garnet-Brown had a solo home run against Davidson and a grand slam against Watkins Memorial.
Darby went 7-4 in the league last season to tie Delaware for third behind Bradley (12-0) and Dublin Scioto (9-3).
Ohler, Revur to lead boys tennis squad
Boys tennis coach Scott Nickel welcomed back just two players from last year's postseason lineup, but both are Division I district qualifiers.
Last season, the Panthers finished 8-7 overall and went 5-1 in the OCC-Cardinal to place second behind Dublin Jerome (6-0).
"We are strong at the top of our lineup, said Nickel, who is in his 15th season. "But so are the teams that we will be competing against in our league and otherwise. We are hoping that we can squeeze out some close matches at first and second singles and pick up at least one other court."
The returnees are seniors Tom Ohler and Krishna Revur.
Ohler was seeded third in singles in a sectional at Davidson last year and finished second, as the top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to the district tournament at Davidson. He lost in the first round at district.
"Tom has been playing first singles for us since he was a freshman," Nickel said. "Not only is he consistent, but he can move in to the net and finish points. He is a great competitor and very smart in how he carries out a game plan and stays cool under pressure.
"Krishna also has a strong overall game and is mentally tough. Both players just find ways to win."
Revur, who plays second singles, teamed with 2017 graduate Adam Schrock in doubles in the postseason and finished fourth at sectional before losing in the first round at district.
Also back is junior Shyam Pandya, who was expected to team with junior Ebun Obisesan at first doubles to start the season.
Sophomore Ishan Somani was expected to play third singles, while senior Tirth Patel and junior Caleb Hughes were expected to play second doubles to begin the season.
"We lost four starters last year," Nickel said. "That's over half of our starting lineup. So this year will be a rebuilding year, especially on our doubles courts, but we have a lot of potential."
The Panthers' first two scheduled matches, including their league opener at Delaware on March 29, were postponed because of bad weather and were not immediately rescheduled. Darby opened April 2 with a 4-1 loss to visiting Davidson.
March 24 -- at Upper Arlington
March 28 -- Washington Court House Miami Trace at V.A. Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe
March 30 -- vs. Massillon Jackson
March 31 -- at Olentangy Liberty with Findlay
*April 2 -- at Delaware
*April 4 -- vs. Delaware
*April 6 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
April 7 -- at Olentangy
*April 9 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
April 10 -- vs. Pickerington Central
*April 11 -- at Dublin Scioto
*April 13 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
April 14 -- vs. Holland Springfield
*April 16 -- at Dublin Jerome
*April 18 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
April 20 -- at Mount Vernon
April 21 -- vs. Newark (DH)
April 24 -- vs. Davidson
*April 25 -- at Thomas Worthington
*April 27 -- vs. Thomas
April 28 -- vs. St. Charles
*April 30 -- vs. Bradley
*May 2 -- at Bradley
May 3 -- at Watterson
May 4 -- vs. DeSales
March 27 -- at Groveport
*March 29 -- at Delaware
March 30 -- at Newark
March 31 -- at Davidson with Watkins Memorial
April 3 -- vs. Westerville South
*April 4 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*April 5 -- at Dublin Scioto
April 6 -- vs. New Albany
*April 9 -- at Dublin Jerome
April 10 -- at Canal Winchester
*April 12 -- at Thomas Worthington
April 13 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*April 16 -- vs. Bradley
*April 18 -- vs. Delaware
*April 19 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
*April 23 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
April 24 -- vs. Licking Heights
*April 25 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
April 26 -- at Ready
April 27 -- vs. Grove City
*April 30 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
*May 2 -- at Bradley
May 4 -- vs. Westerville Central
March 28 -- vs. Wellington
*March 29 -- at Delaware
April 2 -- vs. Davidson
*April 4 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*April 5 -- at Dublin Scioto
April 9 -- vs. Jonathan Alder
*April 10 -- at Dublin Jerome
April 11 -- vs. West
April 16 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
*April 17 -- at Thomas Worthington
*April 19 -- vs. Bradley
April 23 -- at Columbus Academy
April 25 -- vs. Marysville
May 2 -- vs. Big Walnut
May 7 -- vs. Ready
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 5 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*April 10 -- At Dublin Scioto
*April 5 -- At Kilbourne
April 7 -- At Gahanna
*April 10 -- Home vs. Scioto
TRACK & FIELD
April 6 -- Panther Invitational at home
April 9 -- Home vs. Gahanna
*April 5 -- At Scioto
*April 9 -- At Dublin Jerome