In year two for the program, the Southway (Central Crossing) American Legion Post 144A baseball team took steps forward last season.

In year two for the program, the Southway (Central Crossing) American Legion Post 144A baseball team took steps forward last season.

After finishing just 12-26 overall in the first season, Post 144A more than doubled that victory total last season under first-year coach Royce Duffy, as it closed 27-15.

This summer, however, it will need to retrace the steps it made a year ago thanks to the departure of several key players from last year's team, which finished second in District 12.

"My goals have changed obviously, with losing some experience," Duffy said. "Now we're back to working on basics and fundamentals, and basically learning how to win. The team we have this year, they can win. They just don't know it yet."

Post 144A tied Columbus (Watterson) Post 82 for second in District 12 at 12-3 behind Worthington Post 239 (14-2), but Post 144A went just 2-2 in the District 12 tournament. Grove City Post 164A beat Post 144A 11-5 in the fourth round of the losers bracket.

Only three of 15 players were ineligible to return because of age, but three key players who were expected back have decided to play on a travel team instead this summer.

Now, just three players who saw significant action for Post 144A last season are back.

Because of the dropoff, Southway had to pick up a few players who had no ties to Central Crossing, including three players who played at Centennial last year.

Duffy and his players acknowledged that it is a gradual process as the outside players assimilate into the lineup.

"It's hard to pick up on what their strengths and weaknesses are and how far you can push them as pitchers," said catcher Jake Duffy, a former Central Crossing player who will play at Muskingum next season.

"There's a trust factor with any sport," coach Duffy said. "You throw the ball and you've got to trust that somebody's going to catch it. If you don't (trust them), you maybe take a little bit off it. But I'm looking for some good things and I'm hoping to rebuild a core."

Jake Duffy, who led Central Crossing High School with 20 RBI and two home runs last season, is in his third and final year with the team but is one of just a handful of players with experience at Southway.

Pitcher and infielder Adam Taylor, who will be a sophomore at Muskingum, is also in his third year with Southway. Central Crossing junior Sean Thomas is in his second year with the team and starts at shortstop.

Cody McManaway, a senior at Central Crossing, was supposed to play last season but missed the season with an injury. McManaway, who threw 35 1/3 innings with a 5.34 ERA at Central Crossing last spring, will play outfield and pitch.

Two other players, Nick Helwagen and Ben Rhinehart, played on Post 144B last year. Helwagen, a senior at Central Crossing, has been seeing plenty of action as a designated hitter so far, although he also pitches and plays first base. Rhinehart, a junior at Central Crossing, pitches and plays in the outfield.

Others from Central Crossing are sophomore Josh Warren (C/OF), senior Jared Weber (OF), senior Alex Duffy (utility) and junior Cameron Pilkington (utility).

From Centennial, Southway has added juniors John Chudzik (P/utility), Sean Kennedy (P/OF) and Nick Puhlick (INF). Puhlick is recovering from an off-field accident but is expected back in the next few weeks.

Frankie Spradlin, a Madison Plains graduate and a sophomore at Columbus State, will also pitch and play first and third base.

Southway has struggled out of the gate, starting 3-8 overall and 3-5 in District 12 before last Wednesday and players think the hitting and defense will need to improve.

"Defense (is key) because we've got to cut back on errors," Chudzik said. "We're blowing too many plays."

While another 27-win season might be tough to attain, players believe finishing around .500 should be well within reach if the team can get rolling.

"If we win a few games here or there, we're going to hit our stride and we'll get right back where we were last year," Jake Duffy said. "We've just got to swing the bats. I think (winning) 15 or 20 games, somewhere in there, that would be a good goal."