First-year coach Tony Cleveland likes what he sees from his Johnstown-Monroe High School baseball team.

First-year coach Tony Cleveland likes what he sees from his Johnstown-Monroe High School baseball team.

The Johnnies will be trying to return to a Division III district final, the round in which they lost to top-seeded Heath 7-2 last season to finish 15-9 overall. Johnstown won its first three district tournament games, beating Galion Northmor 4-2, North Union 5-1 and Liberty Union 7-4.

"We really have been hitting the ball well and I think that's the strength of our team right now," Cleveland said. "We have been pitching pretty well and our defense has been decent, but I really like the way be have been hitting the ball around."

Cleveland replaced Jason Richards, who was with the program for one season. Cleveland coached Watterson for three seasons, going 44-34-1 from 2007-09, and had been an assistant at Dublin Coffman the last two seasons.

Johnstown finished third (9-5) in the MBC last season behind Fredericktown (12-1) and Utica (10-4) and ahead of Loudonville (7-6). Centerburg, East Knox and Northridge tied for fifth (5-9) and Danville (2-12) was last.

The Johnnies return seven starters from last season including Matt Smith, who was first-team all-district and has signed with Bowling Green State University. The senior was a catcher in his first three seasons, but an ankle injury sustained during football season means Smith will be playing center field for the first few weeks.

"Matt is right now still healing, but as tender as his ankle might be, he's still pretty darn good," said Cleveland, whose team opened March 24 with a doubleheader against Columbus Academy and begins league play April 2 at Utica. "He is a solid hitter, even with the new (less-explosive) bats we have this season. He has been crushing the ball."

Also returning are seniors Taylor Baughman (RF/P), Hunter Cecil (P/SS/3B) and Harley O'Flaherty (3B/1B) as well as juniors Scott Sammons (OF) and Daniel Almendinger (INF/OF) and sophomore Josh Kirkpatrick (P/1B).

Rounding out the roster are seniors Andy Richardson (1B/OF) and Nick Richardson (INF/OF), juniors Preston Hiles (P/1B/OF), Nick Sandinsky (SS) and Jordan White (3B) and sophomores Clayton Bullard (1B/P), Jakob Cramer (2B) and Harrison Johnson (C).

Despite having Smith in center, the Johnnies will be inexperienced up the middle with Johnson at catcher, Sandinsky at shortstop and Cramer at second.

"Defense might be our weakest point, but that's because we're breaking in a new second baseman and shortstop," Cleveland said. "It will take a little longer for our defense to come along, but as long as Matt is in center, we're good out there."

The softball team will try to utilize its abundance of speed to improve on last season, when it finished 5-14 overall and lost to seventh-seeded North Union 5-4 in a first-round Division III district tournament game.

The Johnnies have a first-year coach in Steve Smith, who spent nine years as an assistant.

"We have gotten a lot of outdoor reps, so that part is going well, but we're trying to knock some of the rust off," said Smith, who replaced two-year coach Megan Sheasby. "We have a lot of speed and that will help us on defense and when we get on base. We need to get on base to take advantage of that speed."

Johnstown finished 5-8 in the MBC last season and did not make up its second game with Fredericktown. Loudonville and Northridge tied for the league title at 12-2.

Returning for the Johnnies is senior pitcher Carly Pickard, who had a 5.11 ERA in 88 innings with 60 strikeouts and 32 walks. She also batted .263 with seven RBI.

"Carly never has stopped throwing since the season ended last year," said Smith, whose team opens Monday, March 26, at Heath. "She has thrown in hitting leagues and has never stopped so that she could build up her endurance. She really has worked on her location."

Senior outfielder Meagan Yanczura returns after batting .295 with one home run, six doubles and 20 RBI. Junior outfielder Keymell Cartwright hit .280 with nine runs, three stolen bases and three RBI.

The team's leading hitter last season, senior Kelcey Spang (.302), did not return because of recurring shoulder problems, according to Smith.

Senior Taylor Branstool (C) returns as well as juniors Lauren Baldwin (OF) and Karissa Hurst (INF/OF) and sophomore shortstop Natalie Carpenter. Junior Kim Meyers also saw varsity time as a pitcher.

"We moved Meagan from third to left field and Keymell is extremely fast out in center and added Lauren Baldwin in right, (so) we have a strong outfield," said Smith, whose team opens MBC play Tuesday, March 27, at Utica. "Natalie Carpenter is getting in the groove at shortstop after coming from basketball and Karissa Hurst can play anywhere for us but pitcher and catcher."

Rounding out the roster are juniors Dana Decenzo (2B) and Sam Epling (OF) and sophomores Ashley Bush (3B/1B), Hallie Grindstead (1B) and Rachel Shadwick (2B).

•The boys and girls track and field teams opened March 24 in the Icebreaker Invitational at Watkins Memorial. Because of a band trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., the teams will not compete again until April 14 at Northridge.