Last spring, the Big Walnut High School baseball team produced its first winning season since 2004.

Last spring, the Big Walnut High School baseball team produced its first winning season since 2004.

With the return of eight letterwinners, including six regular starters, the Golden Eagles are looking to build on that success this season.

"We had a good year last year and we're looking to have another good year," said second-year coach Chris Holly, a 1998 Big Walnut graduate whose team opens Monday, March 26, at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "The seniors have been excited (about the season) from day one. They want to leave their mark on Big Walnut baseball. ... We want to improve on last year and make good progress."

Last season, Big Walnut finished 16-10 overall and went 6-8 in the OCC-Capital Division to tie Hilliard Bradley for sixth, behind New Albany (11-3), Olentangy Orange (9-5), Mount Vernon (8-5), Watkins Memorial (8-5) and Delaware Hayes (6-7) and ahead of Franklin Heights (0-13). Not all league games were played because of bad weather.

Seeded eighth in the Division II district tournament, the Eagles opened with a 17-0, five-inning win over Beechcroft, beat fifth-seeded Granville 19-17 in the second round and defeated third-seeded Hartley 5-1 in a district semifinal before losing to fourth-seeded and eventual state champion DeSales 5-4 in a district final.

Big Walnut, which won its only district championship in 1974, led DeSales 4-2 after six innings, but the Stallions scored two runs in the top of the seventh to force extra innings and scored the winning run in the top of the ninth.

The Eagles return seniors Grant Beam (OF/P), Tyler Beam (SS/P), Aaron Dattilo (2B/P), Aaron Gase (C/P), Ben Romer (1B/P), Aaron Shaw (3B/OF/P) and Seth Wandling (1B/C/OF/P). Junior Jay Holland (OF/P) also has returned.

All but Holland and Wandling were regular starters a year ago.

Last season, Tyler Beam hit .427 with 27 RBI, 29 runs and two home runs and went 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 42 innings. He was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

Grant Beam hit .457 with 24 RBI, 28 runs and two home runs and made second-team all-league, and Dattilo hit .425 with 28 RBI, 18 runs and one home run and made honorable mention all-league.

Romer hit .318 with 15 RBI and eight runs and Gase went 2-2 with three saves, a 2.39 ERA and nine strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings.

Also on the team are senior Todd Tarney (OF/2B), juniors Drew Dattilo (utility player), Cole Harbin (utility player) and Max McLean (OF/P) and sophomores Jeremy Bok (P/1B/OF), Logan Boyd (SS/2B) and Kyle Duncan (DH/C/P/1B).

The starting rotation primarily will consist of Tyler Beam, Gase, Harbin and Duncan, Holly said.

Big Walnut lost four players from a year ago to graduation, including two regular starters in shortstop Joe Curran and first baseman Blake Gulley. Last season, Curran had a program-record .550 batting average with 26 RBI, 35 runs, one home run and seven stolen bases and was named first-team-league and all-district.

"We've got a lot of experience, and this group of seniors is awesome," Holly said. "They know what needs to be done and how to do it.

"We have a bunch of guys who can play several positions and a bunch of pitchers, and we feel we have pretty good younger guys that will step up. I think we'll be pretty good defensively and we're swinging the bat pretty well right now."

Big Walnut is scheduled to play five games on its spring break trip to Myrtle Beach. The Eagles return home Thursday, March 29, and begin league play April 2 at Watkins Memorial.

Sixth-year softball coach Jeff Hatfield is hoping his team can regain its winning form after enduring back-to-back losing seasons.

Last season, Big Walnut finished 13-16 overall and went 7-7 in the OCC-Capital to tie Mount Vernon for fourth, behind Delaware (14-0), Bradley (11-3) and Orange (8-6) and ahead of New Albany (5-9), Watkins Memorial (3-11) and Franklin Heights (1-13).

The Eagles defeated Hamilton Township 10-1 and Whitehall 8-6 in the first two rounds of the Division II district tournament before losing to top-seeded DeSales 13-3 in six innings in a district semifinal.

Big Walnut, which opens Monday, March 26, at home against Cardington, also finished 13-16 in 2010. Before last season, the Eagles hadn't had consecutive losing seasons since 1999 and 2000, when they finished 5-21 and 9-15, respectively.

"We've talked about that in great detail," Hatfield said. "We started to get to where we want to be in '08 (20-7) and '09 (20-8), but then we were down in '10 and '11. We want to get back to where we were.

"Our goals are the same as always. We want to win the league title and a district championship."

Big Walnut last won a league title in 2009 and won its only district title in 1988.

The Eagles lost seven regular starters from a year ago to graduation, including shortstop Shelby Fink, center fielder Tabatha Piper, third baseman Tayler Nance and second baseman Brittany Bok.

Last spring, Piper batted .412 with 23 RBI and 19 runs and was named first-team all-district and second-team all-league. Fink, who is playing for Bowling Green State University, hit .398 with 12 RBI, 25 runs, three home runs and a team-high six stolen bases and made second-team all-league. Nance, who missed eight games with a broken ankle, hit .441 with 13 RBI and 12 runs and made honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league. Bok hit .333 with 16 RBI and 14 runs.

Big Walnut, which begins league play April 2 at Watkins Memorial, returns six players who saw significant playing time last year in seniors Emily Petty (P) and Morgan Stephens (C), juniors Krysten Chadwick (1B/C), Cheyan Pace (3B) and Allie Walker (P) and sophomore Hayley Apple (3B).

Petty, who went 8-9 with a 3.25 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 125 innings, and Walker, who went 5-7 with a 4.41 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 81 innings, split time in the circle last year. Stephens was a regular starter but missed 14 games with a broken right hand. Chadwick, Pace and Apple each made multiple starts last year because of the injuries to Stephens and Nance.

Chadwick hit .389 with 20 RBI, 16 runs and a team-high eight home runs and made honorable mention all-league. Stephens batted .273 with 11 RBI, 11 runs and five stolen bases, and Apple hit .283 with seven RBI and nine runs.

Also back is sophomore shortstop Shelbie Borchers, who appeared in seven games and hit .353 with five runs and three stolen bases.

Rounding out the team are juniors Stephanie Adkins (2B), Sadie Allen (OF), Ashley Kayser (2B) and Nicole Walters (1B) and sophomores Katelynn Cheadle (OF), Brooke Hatfield (OF), Shaye Kuhlman (OF), Sara Petty (OF) and Leah Shaw (SS/2B).

"We're young and inexperienced, but in the key positions we have experience," coach Hatfield said. "This is one of the most athletic teams I've had and we have great overall team speed. The girls are very competitive and the energy is there, the enthusiasm is there and work ethic is there. Hopefully, that helps us.

"The key to our season is how quickly we come together as a team. We have a lot of talent and a lot of ability. It's just a matter of getting the pieces in the right place."

Small wins high jump title at state indoor meet

Big Walnut High School sophomore Olivia Small has battled injuries while competing before, but she's never had to endure anything quite like what she did during the state indoor track and field meet March 17 at the University of Akron.

After spiking herself while warming up for the long jump, Small cleared 17 feet, 6 1/4 inches on her first attempt. While making her landing, her right knee slammed into her lower lip.

The injury required three stitches, but she still recorded two other jumps that went further than 17 feet.

With at least a spot on the podium already locked up, Small went 18-1/4 on her final attempt to capture the championship and set a school record.

That performance helped the Golden Eagles tie Austintown-Fitch and Cincinnati McAuley for fourth in the Division I girls meet with 21 points behind Solon (58), Medina (38) and Shaker Heights (26) as 62 teams scored.

Other central Ohio teams finishing in the top 20 were Olentangy Orange (16, tied for 10th), Reynoldsburg (13, 15th), Olentangy (12.5, 16th), Canal Winchester (12, tied for 17th) and Watkins Memorial (11, tied for 20th).

"When I landed in the pit on my first jump, I busted my lip and had to get stitches," said Small, who tied for ninth (17-1 1/2) in the long jump in the state outdoor meet last season despite having a pulled left hamstring. "On my last jump I knew I could do better, and I jumped about 18-1, so it was a good day."