With 10 players, including five starters, back from last year's team that averaged 7.3 runs per game, Pickerington High School North softball coach Sarah Looker is confident the Panthers can maintain that production if not exceed it.

Looker also emphasizes that her roster, which has only 12 players, must be versatile.

"I feel like we're ahead of where we've been in other years in terms of replacing people," said Looker, who is in her seventh season. "Those 10 girls who were on varsity last year are ready to go. We're ready (as a team). Our big headline is versatility and team chemistry. That's what we're utilizing."

Because of postponements, North is just 2-0 entering a Thursday, April 5, game at Canal Winchester. The Panthers defeated visiting West Jefferson 4-3 on March 26 and outslugged Newark 19-17 on April 2.

Fourth-year varsity players Rachel Jensen (3B) and Maddy Schultz (P) lead the group of returning starters that also includes seniors Sophie Moller (C/3B) and Mia Smallwood (1B) and sophomore Carley Auten (2B).

Auten's two-run home run highlighted an eight-run third inning against Newark.

"Our defense is going to be a strength, but also our hitting has always been strong," Jensen said. "We have a lot of smart hitters as well as power hitters. They'll get the home runs and the girls around the bases, but we have a lot of quick girls who can get bunts down for us."

Last season, North went 8-15 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Ohio Division and lost to Hilliard Davidson 13-3 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.

This is the first time Schultz has begun a season as the Panthers' primary pitcher, although she has filled that role on and off since her freshman year.

"This year, she gets to put it all together," Looker said. "She's done a nice job. She put a lot of work in and we're excited for her to implement everything she's learned and done."

The Panthers' other returnees are junior Casey Madison (utility) and sophomores Mackenzie Blazek (OF), Emma Dean (OF/SS), Megan Ebbrecht (OF/3B) and Morgan Ebbrecht (OF/P).

Rounding out the roster are two utility players in senior Courtney Clinton and junior Gina Carlini.

North begins OCC-Ohio play Wednesday, April 11, at Pickerington Central. The Panthers finished fifth in the league last year, behind the champion Tigers (10-0).

Clinton, who said she is naturally a middle infielder, is embracing her first year on varsity both as a chance to showcase her talents and again play with many of her classmates. Clinton spent the past three years on junior varsity.

"I like my role because it allows me to see the game from a lot of different positions," Clinton said. "I'm very excited because it opens me up to a lot of different relationships and friendships with new people I haven't played with in the past. I've been friends with a lot of them and some are completely new faces. It's fun. I'm excited to be a part of this team."

Boys volleyball team is 'super-competitive'

Boys volleyball coach Marci Truex said she was pleasantly "shocked" by her team during the preseason.

North went 6-0 in scrimmages, but the Panthers' 15th-year coach knew sustaining that momentum would be critical as her team opened April 3 on the road at OCC-Ohio foe Gahanna.

"I've been shocked by how they've come together so quickly," Truex said. "That's not always easy to do when you have returning players mixing with guys who are less experienced.

"I am seeing them play to the level of our competition, whether that's good or if we don't play exceptionally well. That's part inexperience, but what I like seeing is they are super-competitive and they don't like to lose. That's a plus."

Seniors Jack Kowalczyk (middle hitter) and Kyle Roach (libero/outside hitter) and junior Bradley Johnson (setter) return for North, which went 11-15 overall and 6-4 in the league last season and lost to Olentangy 25-17, 25-13, 25-22 in a Division I East Region semifinal.

The Panthers tied Gahanna for second in the OCC-Ohio behind Davidson (10-0).

Rounding out the roster are seven new varsity players in senior Jordan Crawford (defensive specialist/outside hitter) and juniors Seth Burton (setter), Danny Corrigan (middle hitter), Demetrius Davis (middle hitter), Eli Lubow (outside hitter), Nate Martin (outside hitter) and Jason Miller (defensive specialist).

Truex projected last week that Martin, who previously played baseball and is in his first year as a volleyball player, would be her starting outside hitter.

"They can be scrappy when they want to. It's the 'want to' part," Truex said. "We made a few bonehead plays in scrimmages, but we worked ourselves back into it and took over the game. They made some key plays at key moments to win. They have found ways to win. That's a plus. I really like that."

North's home opener is Thursday, April 5, against Reynoldsburg. The Panthers will play host to a quad-match Saturday, April 7, that also includes Beavercreek, Mount Vernon and Stow-Munroe Falls before playing four consecutive matches and five of their next seven within the league.

Baseball team returns top two hitters

Led by senior Mitchell Smith (P/C/INF) and juniors Cam Jenkins (OF) and Brock Vinci (P/INF), the baseball team was 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the OCC-Ohio before its home opener April 4 against Central.

The Panthers split four games last week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

North opened with two one-run wins, defeating Lake Forest (Illinois) 1-0 in eight innings March 26 and Erie (Pennsylvania) McDowell 2-1 the next day before falling to Vandalia Butler 9-7 on March 28 and Morgantown (West Virginia) 12-2 in five innings March 29.

The Panthers then lost 4-1 at Central on April 2 in the league opener for both teams. Smith struck out seven in five innings and North scored its only run in the sixth.

Jenkins had a team-best five hits in the Panthers' first four games. Smith had four.

Vinci earned the complete-game win over McDowell, striking out six and walking one.

Senior Collin Floyd (P/INF) got the win against Lake Forest in relief of Smith, who struck out six in five innings.

Under 13th-year coach Tim Thomas, North returns its top two hitters from last year in junior Drew Salinas (INF/P/C), who batted .397 with a team-best 27 hits, and Vinci (.333, 17 hits, 10 RBI).

Last season, Vinci was 4-2 on the mound with a 3.04 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 12 walks in 27.2 innings, and Smith was 2-4 with a 3.47 ERA, 45 strikeouts and 17 walks in 42.1 innings.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Matt Sciacca (P/OF), Troy Swanson (OF), Thomas Townsend (INF) and Jaret Wilcox (OF), juniors Jake Glanzman (INF/P), Clayton Honaker (P/INF), Gage Losoncy (OF), Alec Mendoza (INF/P) and Luke Wilcox (C/P) and sophomores Jarett Barnes (INF/OF), Jacob Chadwick (INF/P) and Dom Myers (INF).

Last season, North finished 8-16 overall and 5-9 in the OCC-Ohio and lost to Thomas Worthington 1-0 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.

The Panthers finished fifth in the OCC-Ohio last year behind champion Grove City (14-0).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BASEBALL

March 26 -- Lake Forest (Ill.) at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 27 -- Erie (Pa.) McDowell at Ripken Experience

March 28 -- Vandalia Butler at Ripken Experience

March 29 -- Morgantown (W.Va.) at Ripken Experience

*April 2 -- at Pickerington Central

*April 4 -- vs. Pickerington Central

*April 6 -- vs. Gahanna

April 7 -- at Teays Valley

*April 9 -- at Gahanna

April 10 -- vs. DeSales

*April 11 -- vs. Lancaster

April 12 -- vs. Briggs

*April 13 -- Lancaster at Beavers Field

*April 16 -- at Reynoldsburg

*April 18 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

*April 20 -- vs. Grove City

April 21 -- vs. St. Charles

*April 23 -- at Grove City

*April 25 -- at Pickerington Central

*April 27 -- vs. Gahanna

April 28 -- at Canal Winchester (DH)

*April 30 -- vs. Lancaster

*May 2 -- at Reynoldsburg

May 3 -- vs. Hartley

*May 4 -- vs. Grove City

May 5 -- vs. Bloom-Carroll (DH)

May 11 -- at Newark Catholic

SOFTBALL

March 26 -- vs. West Jefferson

March 27 -- vs. Liberty Union

March 28 -- vs. Ready

April 2 -- vs. Newark

April 5 -- at Canal Winchester

April 6 -- at Thomas Worthington

April 7 -- vs. Watkins Memorial and Westerville Central

April 9 -- at New Albany

*April 11 -- at Pickerington Central

*April 12 -- vs. Gahanna

April 13 -- vs. Westerville South

*April 16 -- vs. Lancaster

*April 18 -- at Reynoldsburg

*April 19 -- vs. Grove City

April 20 -- at Willow Wood Symmes Valley in Valley of Thunder tournament

April 21 -- Oak Hill and Point Pleasant (W.Va.) in Valley of Thunder tournament

*April 23 -- vs. Pickerington Central

*April 25 -- at Gahanna

*April 26 -- at Lancaster

April 27 -- at Franklin Heights

April 28 -- at Warsaw River View

*April 30 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

*May 2 -- at Grove City

May 4 -- vs. Watterson

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

*April 3 -- at Gahanna

April 5 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

April 7 -- vs. Beavercreek, Mount Vernon and Stow-Munroe Falls

*April 10 -- at Hilliard Davidson

*April 12 -- vs. Pickerington Central

*April 17 -- at Dublin Coffman

*April 19 -- at Upper Arlington

April 20 -- at Dublin Scioto with Olentangy Liberty

*April 23 -- vs. Gahanna

April 24 -- at Reynoldsburg

*April 27 -- vs. Upper Arlington

April 28 -- at Mount Vernon

*May 1 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

*May 3 -- at Pickerington Central

May 5 -- at St. Charles with Akron Hoban

*May 8 -- vs. Dublin Coffman

May 11 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne

May 12 -- vs. Westerville North

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the North boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis and track & field teams:

BOYS LACROSSE

*April 5 -- At Gahanna

April 7 -- At Westerville North

*April 10 -- Home vs. Newark

GIRLS LACROSSE

*April 5 -- Home vs. Gahanna

*April 7 -- At Marysville

BOYS TENNIS

*April 5 -- At Pickerington Central

April 9 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome

*April 10 -- Home vs. Gahanna

April 11 -- Home vs. Chillicothe

TRACK & FIELD

April 7 -- Stingel Invitational at home

*League contest