Watkins Memorial High School baseball coach Don Schone believes catcher is one of the most important positions on the field.

Watkins Memorial High School baseball coach Don Schone believes catcher is one of the most important positions on the field.

That's why he's been spending so much time in the preseason trying to replace 2010 graduate Matt Connor, a first-team all-OCC-Capital Division selection now playing at Muskingum. The candidates include seniors J.D. Robertson, who saw some time behind the plate a year ago, and Gage Marek, who played in the outfield.

Schone is considering all of his options, however, heading into the opener Tuesday, March 29, at Hilliard Davidson.

"I place a lot of emphasis on catching, and the faster we solidify that the better off we'll be," he said. "Whoever it is - maybe a senior or not - we've got to get that squared away. I've even had a freshman catcher before."

Whoever emerges, he will have an unusual pitching staff to work with as the Warriors will use as many as four left-handers, including center fielder and leadoff hitter Tony Winters. The others are juniors Robbie Sexton, Chase Dupps and Evan Werner. Right-hander Eric Robinson, a second-team all-league pick, leads the rotation.

"We've got more coming, too," Schone said of the high number of lefties. "That's nice. That's a good thing because having one can be rare and having two is a real plus. I don't know where they're all coming from, but I'll take them."

The Warriors, who also graduated first-team all-league pitcher Taylor Day, finished 15-12 overall last season following a 9-3 loss to second-seeded Dublin Jerome in a Division I second-round tournament game. That marked a five-win improvement on 2009, when the Warriors went 10-13.

After winning just four OCC-Capital games in 2009, Watkins Memorial rebounded to go 9-5 and share second place with New Albany and Olentangy Orange behind champion Mount Vernon (13-1). Hilliard Bradley went 7-6 to place fifth and was followed by Delaware (6-7), Big Walnut (2-12) and Franklin Heights (0-14).

A schedule revision has league opponents playing each other in consecutive games this season usually spread two days apart, or three days in the case of a Friday-Monday series. Previously, teams played every league member once before running through the schedule again.

"If you only have one good pitcher, it's a big change," said Schone, who is three wins shy of his 100th victory entering his eighth season at Watkins Memorial, which advanced to a Division II state semifinal in 2006 and a regional final the following year. "The scary thing is if we get backed up because of rainouts. If you have to go four or five days in a row, it'll be interesting."

Also returning are senior Bryce Phillips (OF) and Reno Reda (1B), both of whom should be offensive catalysts batting in the heart of the order along with Marek and senior Joe Matalon (OF). Senior D.J. Collins (SS) made honorable-mention all-league. Others to look for include senior Brady Small. Classmate Chris Skaggs, a pitcher and outfielder, could miss much of the season with an elbow injury.

"Our potential is very good. It depends how hard everyone works, how well they fill and accept their roles," Schone said. "You always have to rely on some people who are first-year varsity kids, and there are a lot of juniors we're depending on, so we'll see. On paper, we look pretty good."

Softball coach Tammy Ulrich has picked freshman Kaitlyn Snider to be her starting catcher. Snider also could play a key role offensively by bringing a left-handed bat to the lineup while hitting behind senior first baseman Alli Martie, who returns as the leadoff hitter and bats from the left side as well.

"We've got right-handed power and left-handed slappers. That's a nice combination," said Ulrich, who begins her second season as coach on Monday, March 28, at Liberty Union.

"We've been working to turn some others girls around (to bat left-handed), too. We're going to try hard to manufacture runs (and) make things happen on the base paths."

Senior Elizabeth Rich, a corner infielder, and sophomore shortstop Brynna Pack also return for the Warriors, who finished 5-20 overall a year ago following an 8-1 loss to Dublin Jerome in a Division I first-round tournament game.

Rich and Pack were last year's top run producers and return as the top pitchers.

Rich, a four-year varsity starter, made honorable-mention all-league despite wearing down in the second half of last season because of overuse. She has signed to play at the University of Charleston in West Virginia.

"So far, so good," Ulrich said of Rich's health this spring. "We're going to take precautions to prevent something like that from happening again. Brynna's a strong pitcher, and we probably waited too long to bring her along last year."

Other returning players include seniors Tiffany Johnson (3B) and Christina Christian (OF), juniors Erica Newsome (OF) and Danielle Grasso (3B/SS) and sophomore Olivia Casto, who is moving from catcher to second base. Also expected to contribute are juniors Katie Fuchs and Sarah Nickel and sophomores Amanda Phillips and Alehna Schumacher.

The Warriors went 4-10 in the OCC-Capital last season to place seventh behind Hilliard Bradley (13-1), Mount Vernon (11-3), Delaware (9-5), New Albany (6-8), Big Walnut (6-8) and Olentangy Orange (6-8) and ahead of Franklin Heights (1-13).

"We're hoping to make a move," Ulrich said. "We're definitely much farther ahead now than we were last year at this point."