Most of coach Chick Campbell's peers are saying the Pickerington High School Central baseball team is one of the favorites in the OCC-Ohio Division.

Most of coach Chick Campbell's peers are saying the Pickerington High School Central baseball team is one of the favorites in the OCC-Ohio Division.

"I'm hearing that, and I guess we do look pretty good on paper," said Campbell, who is in his 15th season leading the program. "But we still have to go play. We still have to pitch the ball, hit the ball and catch the ball."

The Tigers opened March 26 with a 2-1 loss to host Upper Arlington then played March 27 at Hilliard Darby. They play host to Delaware on Thursday, March 29, and also have a home doubleheader against Watkins Memorial and Whitehouse Anthony Wayne on Saturday, March 31. The OCC opener is Monday, April 2, at Lancaster, and three games in Tennessee during spring break follow.

Central returns several key players after finishing 15-8 overall with a 4-2 loss in nine innings to Westerville Central in a Division I district semifinal.

They include seniors Nick Jensen-Clagg (SS/P), Evan Jensen (C/P) and Zach Beaver (INF/OF/P), who is getting a late start after playing for the boys basketball team that won the Division I state title. Jensen-Clagg, who made second-team all-district last season, has signed with Kent State, and Jensen, a first-team all-district selection, will play at Akron after batting .470 with a .620 on-base percentage last year.

The Tigers, whose five players lost to graduation included Wright State-signee Isaac Beller, went 8-6 to finish fifth in the OCC-Ohio behind Pickerington North (12-2), Gahanna (10-4), Grove City (9-5) and Reynoldsburg (9-5) and ahead of Groveport (3-11), Newark (3-11) and Lancaster (2-12). Jensen made first-team all-league, Jensen-Clagg was second-team all-league and Beaver was honorable mention all-league.

Grove City also is expected to contend for the league title after advancing to a state semifinal last spring. Reynoldsburg reached a district final and North played in a district semifinal as the top seed.

"Everybody is still picking Pickerington Central this year to win it," Grove City coach Ryan Alexander said. "We still have a lot to prove, and it only goes to show how competitive our league is."

Central junior Greg Basalyga could play as many as three infield spots (2B/SS/3B) and will be part of a pitching staff also expected to include seniors Michael Zwilling (1B/2B) and Avery Walker (OF) and sophomore Kyle Casserly (1B/OF). Jensen might be the closer, Campbell said. Senior Nick Ellis (CF) may see time on the mound, too.

The seventh senior is Connor Tailford (2B). The roster also features juniors Devon Fisk, Sam Lahr, Kaleb Foltz and Brenden Doyle.

"Our kids are going to move around quite a bit," said Campbell, who is in his 15th season. "We could end up using a couple dozen lineups before it's over.

"But we have very coachable kids, and that's why we're so excited. The good weather has helped us, too, and so has the extra time we got with all the players and not just pitchers and catchers. Everybody started on Feb. 20 this year."

North must replace plethora of talent

North finished 25-4 overall a year ago with a 2-1 loss to Worthington Kilbourne in a Division I district semifinal, and the Panthers are 75-17 since the start of the 2009 season. They captured their third league title since the school opened in 2003-04, and it marked the seventh time in eight years they've finished among the top two.

Thirteen players were lost to graduation, however, including college recruits Austin Butler (Bowling Green) and Kyle Sorenson (Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne).

Butler, a catcher, made first-team all-state, first-team all-district and was the OCC-Ohio's co-Player of the Year after batting .493 with four home runs and 30 RBI. Fellow graduate Drew Williams made second-team all-state, first-team all-district and first-team all-league after posting a 5-0 record and 1.56 ERA. Graduate Kyle Chontos, an outfielder, made first-team all-state, first-team all-district and first-team all-league after batting .473 with one homer and 20 RBI.

The heavy losses will create plenty of opportunities this spring, however. The top returnees include senior Cale Giddings, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound first baseman who has signed with Akron, and junior Tyler Pagano, an outfielder who posted a 3-1 record on the mound last spring. Giddings batted .301 with nine doubles.

Senior Nick Glanzman (INF/P) and juniors Corey Black (INF/P), Ryan Miller (INF/OF/P) and Matt Poland (C/P) also return for the Panthers. The six seniors also include Cameron Huey (P), Kyle Goddard (P), Eric Roth (OF) and Caleb Huth (C).

The roster is rounded out by juniors Jordan Grubb (INF), Chaz Murray (OF), Kyle Montell (OF/P), Connor Jeffries (INF), Dusty Gleich (C) and Mason Olszewski (OF), sophomores Justin Childers (INF/P) and Jake Edwards (P) and freshman Logan Giddings (OF/P).

The Panthers opened March 28 against Canal Winchester, and the first of six games in Myrtle Beach, S.C., during spring break is against Chagrin Falls Kenston on Monday, April 2. The OCC-Ohio opener is April 9 at Central.