The Olentangy High School baseball team's early results showed exactly how eager the Braves were to retake the field after going 21-5 a year ago and scoring 10 runs in a Division I district final, only to fall short of the championship by a run.

The Braves lost to Gahanna 11-10 that day, ending a season that featured their third consecutive league championship.

Olentangy started fast this year, taking a 4-2 record into its home and OCC-Buckeye Division opener Thursday, April 5, against Westerville South.

Junior Caden Kaiser (P/1B/OF), an Ohio State commit, leads a group that includes six returning starters and five college recruits.

"This is probably our most balanced team that we have had in my six years here," coach Ryan Lucas said. "We have great depth with our pitching, experience in the infield and outfield and good balance throughout our lineup. Our challenge will be for our players accepting and embracing roles, making everything about the team and knocking the door down once we put ourselves in a position to win a championship."

Olentangy opened with a 10-0, six-inning win at Hilliard Davidson on March 24. Junior Logan Ketron earned the win on the mound, striking out seven without allowing a walk in four innings, and junior Connor Haag (3B/P) had two hits and three RBI.

Ketron, also a third baseman and outfielder, is among the group of returning starters that also consists of seniors Nick Foy (P), Luke Hassinger (C), Josh Moeller (SS) and Cole Robinson (OF).

Foy is a University of Indianapolis recruit. Robinson has committed to Mount Union.

Senior Evan Brock (OF/P) is a Findlay recruit. Senior Ethan Kellner (OF/P) will play at Florida Southern, and classmate Braydon Chitty (OF) has signed to play football at Ohio Dominican.

Last week at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Braves defeated Hampshire (Illinois) Burlington Central 6-0 in March 26, Lake Forest (Illinois) 9-2 on March 27 and Eastlake North 5-3 on March 28. They lost to Wheaton (Illinois) North 3-2 on March 27 and Dublin Scioto 6-5 on March 28.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Dylan Anderson (P/2B/SS), Tyler Karbler (3B/OF) and Nate Wilhelm (P/1B), juniors Christian Bova (P), Evan Brock (P/1B/OF), Sutton Bucci (1B), Tyler Campbell (OF), Danny DelGratta (P) and Connor McNulty (INF), sophomores Max Caron (C) and Trent Maddox (OF) and freshman Jace Middleton (P/OF).

The Braves went 12-3 in the OCC-Buckeye last year, ahead of runner-up Orange (10-5).

"Our league is so competitive from top to bottom and is a grind every game. We have a veteran group with a lot of championship experience," Lucas said. "We also have some newcomers playing varsity for the first time that I am excited to see help our team in their own way-slash-role."

'Core seven' leading boys volleyball team

Boys volleyball coach Karen Kochheiser gave her team three things to improve on as it tries to make its third consecutive Division I East Region final, and she will depend on a group she calls her "core seven" to implement her vision.

Seniors Bentley Azbell (libero), Jamir Benton (middle hitter), Kurt Freeman (right-side hitter), Aaric Gossett (outside hitter), Mitchell Postak (outside hitter), Jack Spohn (middle hitter) and Trent Trees (setter) are back from last year's team that went 23-4 overall and 6-2 in the OCC-Buckeye, losing to South 25-21, 25-22, 25-21 in the regional final.

Olentangy was 5-1 before beginning OCC-Buckeye play April 3 at South.

"Our blocking has definitely improved," said Kochheiser, who is in her third season. "I gave the guys three things I really wanted to see us change -- our blocking had to improve, we were too predictable on offense and I wanted us to increase our tempo.

"Those top seven guys have played together since they were in seventh or eighth grade. They're friends off the court as well and they have an ambition to make sure this is their season."

The Braves opened March 23 with a 23-25, 26-24, 15-25, 25-23, 15-13 loss at St. Charles and defeated Mount Vernon 25-18, 25-15, 25-20 in their home opener March 27.

Olentangy defeated Davidson 25-17, 25-21, 25-21 on March 30 and swept a quad the next day at Kettering Fairmont, beating Cincinnati Elder 27-25, 24-26, 25-22, the host Firebirds 22-25, 25-12, 25-15 and Mount Vernon 23-25, 26-24, 25-18.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Noah Bahnick (utility), Joey Huyhn (defensive specialist) and Garrett Ross (defensive specialist), juniors Hayden Kekeres (outside hitter), Zane Nelson (setter) and Jack Rettinger (right-side hitter) and freshmen Sam Irwin (middle hitter) and Sam Kaylor (utility).

The Braves finished second in the OCC-Buckeye last year behind South (8-0).

"All the guys who will play varsity have played club or had private lessons," Kochheiser said. "They put in a lot of time in the offseason. We don't have to go back and start over learning the basics."

Softball team hungry for more

Thanks to postponements, the softball team found itself in the rare position of winning its season finale last year.

That 13-0, five-inning win over Orange is not the game that stuck in the Braves' collective thoughts, however, as they return eight seniors and seven letterwinners this season.

Olentangy went 14-10 overall and 7-3 in the OCC-Buckeye but did not earn a postseason win, losing to Delaware 6-1 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.

"We felt that we underachieved," sixth-year coach Alan Tharp said.

The Braves, who were 4-1 before playing Grove City on April 4, return their two pitchers from last year in senior Sophie Low and sophomore Payton Cox as well as senior catcher Olivia Bigham and offensive leader Morgan Cox, a senior outfielder.

Low threw a perfect game March 30 in a 3-0 win over Slippery Rock (Pennsylvania) in Myrtle Beach, recording 12 strikeouts.

"We have some really good talent this season and we expect good things from our underclassmen," Tharp said. "We have a 16-player roster this season and any of them can produce on the field and at the plate.

"Sophie is a solid offensive threat and a great leader. Olivia will be the other half of the battery and a good field general. We expect a great year for Morgan. ...

"(The seniors) have contributed to the leadership over the winter and should have a great year."

Olentangy opened March 26 with an 11-1 loss to Wheaton (Illinois) St. Francis in Myrtle Beach. Payton Cox doubled twice and had the Braves' only RBI, but four errors paved the way for 10 unearned runs.

The Braves rebounded with four consecutive wins, including defeating Olmsted Falls 9-6 and Jonesborough (Tennessee) David Crockett 4-1 on March 27 and Liverpool (New York) 2-0 on March 29.

Morgan and Payton Cox each hit solo home runs against Slippery Rock.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Maddy Beachley (INF/OF), Erika Brehm (OF), Emily Gernert (P/OF), Olivia Gregory (OF) and Olivia Hupp (INF/OF), juniors Emily Bullock (1B), Ana Oliverio (C/OF) and Brooke Wells (3B/INF), sophomores Blythe Beaumont (C/INF) and Kirsten Kracht (INF/OF) and freshmen Maia Crumb (C/INF) and Olivia Davidson (INF).

Olentangy's home opener is Friday, April 6, against Big Walnut. The Braves begin OCC-Buckeye play Wednesday, April 11, at South.

The Braves finished second in the league last year behind Westerville Central (10-0).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BASEBALL

March 24 -- at Hilliard Davidson

March 26 -- Hampshire (Ill.) Burlington Central at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 27 -- Wheaton (Ill.) North at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 27 -- Lake Forest (Ill.) at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 28 -- Dublin Scioto and Eastlake North at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

*April 5 -- vs. Westerville South

*April 6 -- vs. Westerville North

April 7 -- vs. Hilliard Darby

*April 9 -- at Westerville North

*April 10 -- at Westerville South

*April 11 -- at Westerville Central

*April 13 -- vs. Westerville Central

April 14 -- vs. Teays Valley

*April 16 -- at Olentangy Orange

*April 18 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

*April 20 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

April 21 -- at Gahanna with New Albany

*April 23 -- at Olentangy Liberty

*April 25 -- at Westerville South

April 26 -- at Dublin Coffman

*April 27 -- vs. Westerville North

April 28 -- vs. Thomas Worthington

*April 30 -- at Westerville Central

*May 2 -- at Olentangy Orange

*May 4 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

SOFTBALL

March 26 -- Wheaton (Ill.) St. Francis at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 27 -- Jonesborough (Tenn.) David Crockett and Olmsted Falls at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 29 -- Liverpool (N.Y.) at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 30 -- Slippery Rock (Pa.) at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

April 4 -- at Grove City

April 5 -- at Hilliard Davidson

April 6 -- vs. Big Walnut

April 7 -- at Buckeye Valley with Dublin Scioto

April 9 -- at Upper Arlington

*April 11 -- at Westerville South

*April 12 -- vs. Westerville North

April 13 -- at Reynoldsburg

*April 16 -- at Westerville Central

April 17 -- at Watterson

*April 18 -- at Olentangy Orange

*April 19 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

April 20 -- at Groveport with Mount Vernon

*April 23 -- vs. Westerville South

*April 25 -- at Westerville North

*April 26 -- vs. Westerville Central

*April 30 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

*May 2 -- at Olentangy Liberty

May 3 -- vs. Hartley

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

March 23 -- at St. Charles

March 27 -- vs. Mount Vernon

March 30 -- at Hilliard Davidson

March 31 -- at Kettering Fairmont with Cincinnati Elder and Mount Vernon

*April 3 -- at Westerville South

*April 5 -- vs. Westerville North

*April 10 -- at Westerville Central

*April 12 -- at Olentangy Orange

*April 17 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

*April 19 -- vs. Westerville South

April 21 -- vs. Cincinnati Elder and Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit

*April 24 -- at Westerville North

*April 26 -- vs. Westerville Central

April 27 -- at Beavercreek

*May 1 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

*May 3 -- at Olentangy Liberty

May 5 -- at Kettering Alter

May 9 -- at Hilliard Darby

*League contest

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

BOYS LACROSSE

*April 5 -- At Westerville South

April 7 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome

*April 10 -- Home vs. Westerville Central

GIRLS LACROSSE

*April 5 -- Home vs. Westerville South

April 7 -- Home vs. Uniontown Green

*April 10 -- At Westerville Central

BOYS TENNIS

*April 5 -- At Westerville South

April 7 -- Hilliard Bradley Invitational

*April 10 -- Home vs. Westerville South

April 11 -- At Columbus Academy

TRACK & FIELD

April 6 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby

April 9 -- At Olentangy Orange

*League contest