One offseason can make a big difference for a young team.

One offseason can make a big difference for a young team.

It was going to be disappointing if the Columbus (Watterson) American Legion Post 82 baseball team didn't improve on its 11-14 record from last year, but it is unlikely anyone expected the kind of turnaround the team enjoyed. Post 82 finished 21-13 and fell just one win shy of qualifying for the state tournament. It lost to Worthington Post 239 16-5 on July 17 in the District 12 championship.

Post 82 coach Nippy Prease said he thinks having all but one player back from the 2009 season helped the team mesh. The only player from the 2009 roster who didn't return was Aaron Hannigan.

"Last year we basically fielded a j.v. team," Prease said. "But this year all those same guys came back. Last year we went two and out in the (double-elimination district) tournament, but this year we went all the way to the finals. They matured and got a year older and they figured out how to win ballgames."

Post 82 often seemed overmatched last year, fielding a much younger team than its competition, but Prease viewed that more as a positive than a negative coming into this season.

"Playing in that league last year really helped," Prease said. "They carried the experience through last season. This season it really blossomed. We hit well, where last year we couldn't. Same with pitching. Last year it wouldn't hold out. This year our pitching turned out really well."

The team batting average improved from .234 to .308 and the team ERA dropped from over 4.00 to 3.34.

Prease said he knew his team was better than it was in 2009 shortly after a 2-1 loss to one of the district's top teams, Grove City Post 164A, early in the season. When Post 82 used the loss as motivation instead of an excuse to fold, he knew the season was going to be different.

"We just ran off this string of victories," Prease said. "We went to Omaha and came in third place. In a tournament in Cincinnati, they made the finals and came in second there. I think they saw they could play with anybody against Grove City and really took off from there."

Post 82 appears poised to make a run at a District 12 title again next year, as it expects to lose only one full-time starter in Greg Hock, who plays at Ohio Wesleyan.

"That's going to be a big loss," Prease said. "Greg was one of our best pitchers and he played shortstop for us."

Prease is happy to turn over the reins to Scott Manahan, the former Watterson standout who will enter his first season as Eagles coach next spring. Though Prease is done coaching his players for the summer, he said he's not going to stop watching or following their progress.

"Coach Manahan is inheriting a very good ball team," Prease said.

"I can't wait for the next school baseball season to start. I think these guys are set to make a run. They're going to make a run for not only the league (CCL), but a (Division II) district or regional championship."