The Utica High School baseball team's schedule includes some of the state's traditional powers.

The Utica High School baseball team's schedule includes some of the state's traditional powers.

The first game is Monday at Lakewood, which in 2005 captured a third Division II state championship and this season is expected to be in the MSL-Ohio Division title picture. The opening week also includes a game Friday at defending Division II state-champion Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, which also defeated Watkins Memorial to win state in 2006.

The Redskins, who finished 19-6 overall a year ago and went 13-1 to win a third MBC championship in four seasons, also have doubleheaders at Berlin Hiland (April 26) and Pickerington North (May 9). Hiland was last year's state runner-up in Division IV after ousting Newark Catholic in a regional final, and North won the OCC-Central title and earned the third seed for the Division I district tournament.

"Our schedule is doubly hard this year," said coach Bren Henderson, who has a 39-12 record entering his third season. "We're playing some of the best teams in central Ohio, some of the best teams in the whole state, really. And Walsh Jesuit's one of the best teams in the country. We've clearly got our work cut out for us."

Michael Sandman, whom Henderson said has made a verbal commitment to Ball State, headlines a veteran lineup. The 6-foot-5 senior posted a 5-2 pitching record last year and also was the top hitter with a .445 average. He can be the designated hitter when he's not pitching or play either corner infield position.

Classmates Jesse Hughes (C) and Jerrod Ours (CF) are three-year starters. Ours might bat in a run-producing spot in the order now after hitting leadoff the past two years. Senior Shane Williamson is a middle infielder, and classmate Kenny Poland returns in the outfield.

Other top players are juniors Derek Beaver, Joe Wheeler, Joe Metzger and Travis Dassylva. Metzger could be the new leadoff hitter, and Dassylva is another potential offensive catalyst.

Wheeler also should be one of the top pitchers for the Redskins, who lost to Granville 6-2 in the second round of the Division II district tournament last season and to Hartley 14-10 in extra innings in the second round in Division III in 2007.

"We've been disappointed at the end there the past two years," Henderson said. "Last year we had one of our worst fielding games of the season when he lost to Granville, and that tournament game two years was just so bizarre.

"Our kids are pretty resilient, though. Our first goal is to win the league again, and after that we've got to find a way to get deeper in the tournament. I think our schedule will really help."