Phil Callaghan says he's as excited as he's ever been coaching baseball.

Phil Callaghan says he's as excited as he's ever been coaching baseball.

A varsity baseball coach since 1986 with previous stops at DeSales and Dublin Scioto, Callaghan sees unlimited potential in his Olentangy Orange High School team.

The Pioneers return several key players from a team that finished 19-9 overall and reached the program's first district semifinal, where they lost to Grove City 16-8. Orange had a first-round bye in the Division I district tournament and beat Hilliard Darby 7-0 in the second round.

"We understand a little more about what it takes to be successful," said Callaghan, who begins his second season at Orange with a Saturday, March 24, doubleheader at Hilliard Darby. "We understand a little better about the work we have to put in and I think we're a little tougher mentally."

Orange finished second (9-5) in the OCC-Capital Division, behind New Albany (11-3) and ahead of Mount Vernon and Watkins Memorial (both 8-5), Delaware (6-7), Big Walnut and Hilliard Bradley (both 6-8) and Franklin Heights (0-13).

Senior shortstop Luke Wolford, a University of Dayton signee, set the program record for batting average in a season by hitting .474 last year. He also was 4-1 as a pitcher and was first-team all-district and all-league.

Sophomore Paul Trick, a second baseman, batted .446 and was second-team all-league.

"I think our strength will be our hitting," Callaghan said. "We really have been blessed with a lot of kids who really like the game and spend a lot of time on it."

Orange returns eight players with starting experience, including Wolford and senior outfielder Cole McCurry, both of whom now are four-year starters. Senior catcher Brai Beckel is a three-year starter, and seniors Lucas Poole (OF), Anthony Mancini (SS/OF) and Billy McCague (1B/P) and juniors Brady Harris (1B/C/P) and Trick are two-year starters.

Others expected to start this season include senior David Kaiser (C/OF) and Michael Lindell (2B/P) as well as sophomores Alec McCurry (C/P/OF) and Matt Smith (OF/P).

Rounding out the roster are seniors Ryan Benecke (2B), Ryan Black (OF), Jake McClellan (INF/OF), Matt Sargent (P/1B) and Austin Simpson (P/OF) as well as sophomore Cody McCague (P/3B) and freshman Tyler Johnson (P/SS).

The pitching staff will be anchored by Wolford, Beckel and Mancini.

"I have been impressed with how far along our pitchers have been this spring," Callaghan said. "But one of our weaknesses has been our defense, but that's something we can work on and gets better with practice."

Braves feature experienced lineup

Olentangy returns nine letterwinners from a team that finished 23-5 overall last season after losing to Hilliard Bradley 4-1 in a Division II district semifinal.

"We return practically our whole infield and we have some guys who have started for us for a couple of seasons," said coach Steve Little, whose 11th season leading the program begins Monday, March 26, against DeSales. "They play a lot in the summer and they know the game."

Olentangy won the OCC-Cardinal last season at 12-2, its first league championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2006-07. Westerville Central was second at 10-4 followed by Marysville (7-6), Dublin Scioto (7-7), Dublin Jerome (6-8), Westerville North (5-8), Olentangy Liberty (5-9) and Westerville South (3-11). Marysville and North did not make up a league game.

Senior catcher Woody Wallace has signed with the University of Cincinnati and senior second baseman Tyler McFarland has signed with Division II Lake Erie College in Painesville. Seniors Ryan Dubil (P/SS), Kris Elmer (P) and Avery Moore (P/1B) are looking at college offers, and senior outfielder Will Brett will play football at Ohio Dominican.

Junior third baseman Casey Stanley also returns. When Dubil pitches, McFarland will move to shortstop and junior outfielder Christian Brett will move from the outfield to second.

Senior Jonathan Seymour returns and will play in the outfield.

Other juniors include Griffin Binkley (P/OF), Trent Boucher (INF), Adam Green (P/OF), Luke Hartline (C/INF), Jacob Kaylor (P/1B) and Michael Watkins (P).

"We're looking to fill a couple of spots in the lineup hitting-wise," Little said. "We don't really have a true leadoff hitter and we need someone to hit behind and protect Woody."

The Braves lost their top pitcher to graduation in Kenny McCambridge, who now plays at Mount Vernon Nazarene, but he was the only major loss from the staff.

"We return 17 of our 23 wins from last season, so we have pretty good pitching depth," Little said.

The Braves have returned to Division I this season, but Little doesn't expect much of a change.

"We have pretty much the exact same schedule as last year, which was filled with Division I teams," Little said. "We only play two Division II teams - Bexley and DeSales - just like last year. And we picked up Pickerington North and Mount Vernon, who both have great programs year in and year out. It should help to prepare us for the postseason."

Defense, baserunning among keys for Patriots

Liberty has a new coach in Ty Brenning, who was an assistant for seven seasons under the program's first coach, Matt Lattig.

The Patriots finished 8-16 overall last season, losing to Hilliard Darby 7-5 in the opening round of the Division I district tournament.

"The kids have done a great job this year by being detail-oriented and working in a competitive atmosphere," said Brenning, whose team opens Monday, March 26, at home against Marion Pleasant. "We have eight seniors who are very driven and motivated and they are focused on earning everything that comes their way."

Zach Glaze (3B/P) begins his third year on varsity to lead the senior class. Davis Martin (3B/P), Jacob Meegan (SS/2B), Kris Popham (P) and Ben Scandling (C) are in their second varsity season. Paul Campbell (OF), Brandon Parr (1B) and Christian Watson (P/OF) will be in their first varsity season.

Juniors include Josh Akerman (OF), Louis Firmstone (OF), Max Gunn (1B), Bryson Ray (P), Alec Snider (SS/2B/P) and Tyler Welch (OF). Rounding out the roster are sophomores Mitchell Griffiths (3B/P), Morgan Rankey (INF/OF) and Marcus Wechselberger (OF) and freshman Cameron Commer (INF/OF).

"I think one of our strengths is being able to play good defense and also we can put pressure on teams with our baserunning," Brenning said. "We will have to throw strikes because we can't be giving up more than three outs in an inning and not put extra guys into scoring position."

Brenning is pleased with his coaching staff, which includes three Liberty graduates in Ryan Montgomery (2005), Chris Sansbury (2007) and John Sansbury (2005).

"Our coaching staff, from top to bottom, is one of the best in the area and I'm happy to have them," Brenning said. "Three of them played here at Liberty, they understand our expectations and want to help continue what they learned here as players."