Coach Rick Houston describes the Licking Valley High School baseball team with a single word.

Coach Rick Houston describes the Licking Valley High School baseball team with a single word.

"Potential," he said. "There's definitely a lot of potential with this group. I don't necessarily like the 'P' word, but if we hit and pitch up to our potential, we'll be pretty good."

The Panthers, who open Tuesday against Mount Vernon, lost nine graduates from a team that finished 19-8 overall and shared second place in the MSL-Ohio Division with Newark Catholic at 10-4 behind Heath (11-3).

However, they return 10 seniors after advancing to a Division II district semifinal for a third consecutive season and losing to Canal Winchester 5-3 in a district final. DeSales captured the other district championship, and the Indians eventually lost to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit in the state final.

"Division II is such a meat-grinder here in central Ohio," said Houston, who has 43-12 record entering the third year of his second stint with the Panthers, who had won the previous two MSL-Ohio titles. "We'd like to win back the league title, first off, and then we've got to figure out a way to get out of the district."

The senior class includes middle infielders Chase Houston and Drew Ryan, third baseman Cole Blake, outfielders Nate Hopkins, Grant Markert and Nate Bryan and pitcher Corey Cooperrider. The others are Keith Keyes, Cody Skeese and Drew Riley.

The juniors include Jason Holman, Nick Moore and Garrett Shepherd. Sophomore Tregg Hall and freshman Trace Johnson are expected to see time as well.

Hopkins, Markert, Chase Houston, Ryan and Blake are expected to comprise the top half of the batting order. The starting pitchers also should include Ryan, Houston, Blake and Skeese, who likely will miss a turn or two in the rotation with a broken finger.

"We're really blessed with pitching depth, though. Twelve of our 16 kids can pitch," coach Houston said. "The problem is getting everybody enough innings."