It should be a safe assumption that the Newark Catholic High School baseball team won't be losing nine consecutive games and 12 out of 13 during any stretch of this regular season.

It should be a safe assumption that the Newark Catholic High School baseball team won't be losing nine consecutive games and 12 out of 13 during any stretch of this regular season.

That was a case a year ago, however.

The Green Wave, which started 2-5 and ran into even more trouble as the MSL-Ohio Division schedule unfolded, had 19 losses entering the postseason before advancing to the Division IV state final. It finished 15-20 overall with a 3-0 loss to Fort Loramie.

"I predict they'll be the Division IV state champions. My money's on that right now," Heath coach Dave Klontz said. "Any championship has to go through Green Wave Drive."

That being said, Klontz, who is entering his 40th season with the Bulldogs, can't help but pay his respects to Lakewood's Don Thorp, who enters is 39th season with 845 career victories.

The Lancers finished 26-5 last year while advancing to a Division II state semifinal. They went 13-1 to win one of Ohio's toughest leagues as Heath (10-4), Col-umbus Academy (8-6), Granville (8-6), Bexley (7-7), Licking Valley (6-8), Newark Catholic (4-10) and Whitehall (0-14) followed.

"They're the defending champs," Klontz said of the Lancers, who graduated 13 seniors and return only one starter in junior catcher Hunter Gray. "Until someone proves otherwise, they're still the team to beat in my book."

The Bulldogs, who finished 20-8 and captured a third Division III district title in four seasons, should challenge, however. They return one of the MSL-Ohio's top pitchers in junior left-hander Adam Jenkins, who missed the postseason with a knee injury, and an up-and-comer in sophomore Chase Geller, who went the distance to defeat Bloom-Carroll 6-3 in a district final. Senior first baseman Ethan Fleming, who took Jenkins' spot at the front of the rotation, is back as well.

Heath also returns much of its infield with senior Cole Benner (C) and juniors Kyle Willy (2B) and Derek Yahn (SS). Senior Jordan Crabill, who as point guard helped the boys basketball team win its first district title since 1992, returns in center field and is flanked by seniors Mason Robinson and Nate Hunt.

"We have four of the varsity basketball kids," said Klontz, who has 591 career wins. "That's a good thing because winning is contagious."

The Green Wave counters with a lineup featuring returning starters in senior Michael Lewis (3B), juniors Jimmy Lough (3B), Tanner Potts (LF) and Garrett Vernau (CF) and sophomores Judah Wollenburg (SS) and Mitch Cox (2B). Lough and Lewis will again be the top starting pitchers. The five seniors include Sean Hughes (RF), who missed last season with a shoulder injury, and Nate Taylor (1B /C), who coach John Cannizzaro said is one of his most improved players.

"We basically only lost two innings of pitching to graduation. Our pitching experience is where we're really ahead of last year," said Cannizzaro, who is 336-131 entering his 16th season at Newark Catholic. "But any predictions at this point is just that - a prediction."

Columbus Academy, Bexley and Granville all have made significant strides, and Klontz said he admires the talent coming through Licking Valley.

The Blue Aces, who have beefed up their schedule in hopes of making a tournament run in Division II, finished 18-10 overall last year and have a deep pitching staff anchored by junior Michael Steensen. They also return six starters, including seniors Seth Yoho (C), Ty Compton (SS) and Pete Clouse (2B) and junior Zach Lilly (CF), and should be strong defensively.

"In this league, you can get beat by anybody on any day," Klontz said. "But that's the beauty of playing in this league. That's why I'm having as much fun today as when I first started."

•SOFTBALL - Lakewood, which captured a third consecutive state championship a year ago when it defeated Poland Seminary 1-0 in the Division II final on then-freshman Kelsi Thompson's RBI single, probably won't be unseated as the MSL-Ohio champion.

The Lancers, who finished 29-5 a year ago, return five starters in addition to Thompson, including junior pitcher Alyssa Patznick.

The chase for second should include a trio of last year's district semifinalists in Licking Valley (Division II), Heath (Division III) and Newark Catholic (Division IV). The Green Wave finished 18-11 a year ago to post its best record since going 18-11 in 2006.

Granville went 10-2 in the league to place second behind the Lancers (11-1) as Licking Valley (7-5), Heath (6-6), Newark Catholic (6-6), Whitehall (2-10) and Bexley (0-12) followed. But the Blue Aces, a district runner-up in Division II, might be rebuilding with only four letterwinners returning from a 22-8 team.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are thinking even bigger with the return of their starting battery of senior pitcher Jessica Sullivan and junior catcher Emily Phipps. They have six seniors, although pitcher Madi Bush is struggling with a shoulder injury. Junior Corinne Hart will see time in the circle, and freshman catcher Kylie Gross will take her turn as well.

Heath also brings back starters in seniors Kenisha Body (1B), Alex Knight (INF) and Trish Waddell (SS) and sophomore Taya Croom (CF), while senior Sabrina Showman also will have a spot and junior Bre Felix returns after missing last season with a wrist injury.

The Bulldogs posted a five-win improvement to finish 13-14 overall following a 7-0 postseason loss to top-seeded North Union.

"The district semis was our goal last year because Heath hadn't been there in years and years," coach Holly Myers said. "Now the goal is to get to the final and win it. The girls are leading the way on this. They're focused and really working hard.

"The experience factor is huge for us this year, too. We have nine girls returning who lettered so we're pretty excited to get going."