It won't take long for third-year coach Jeff Boulware to see where the revamped Worthington Kilbourne High School baseball team stands compared to some of central Ohio's elite programs.

It won't take long for third-year coach Jeff Boulware to see where the revamped Worthington Kilbourne High School baseball team stands compared to some of central Ohio's elite programs.

The Wolves, who lost a dozen 2011 graduates, including four who are playing in college this spring, open Tuesday, March 27, against defending OCC-Cardinal Division champion Olentangy. The first week also includes games March 29 at Watterson, which has won three state titles, and March 30 at home against DeSales, which captured last year's Division II state championship with no seniors on its roster. Those three schools combined for a 59-22 record last season.

Looking down the road, Kilbourne also will play teams such as Cincinnati Colerain, St. Charles and Westerville Central, which won a district title. The first OCC-Central series begins April 2 against visiting Hilliard Darby.

"We really front-loaded the schedule," said Boulware, whose team is coming off a 14-12 season in which it advanced to a Division I district final before losing 5-2 to eventual state-semifinalist Grove City. "We'll find out soon enough what we're all about.

"Fortunately, the weather (in preseason) has been awesome and that's going to help us get ready. Last year we had limited practice time because of all the rain. We never could find a rhythm until we got to the tournament."

Seniors Conor Flaherty (OF), Brian Hanks (SS) and Jacob Shriver (INF) and sophomore Jacob Niggemeyer (1B) are among the returnees for the Wolves, who were 11-11 during the regular season before eliminating Newark 7-6, Dresden Tri-Valley 7-6 and top-seeded Pickerington North 2-1 in nine innings in a semifinal during the district tournament.

They won a lot of the right games, however, going 10-4 to tie Hilliard Davidson for second in the OCC-Central behind Dublin Coffman (13-1) and ahead of Thomas Worthington (7-7), Hilliard Darby (7-7), Upper Arlington (6-8), Central Crossing (2-12) and Westland (1-13).

Niggemeyer, who pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the save in the upset of North, made second-team all-league. He returns as one of the go-to pitchers, and junior Brian Sommers also has some varsity experience on the mound.

Hanks is a three-year letterwinner, and he and Shriver are the captains.

The roster also features senior Colin Chancey (OF), juniors Luke Bogatay (OF), Danny Dutko (OF/P), Ben Lawson (C/OF), Ben Paulin (INF) and Tom Scantland (C), sophomore Hayden Shenefield (2B/P) and freshman Dominic Brown (CF).

"What I'm most excited about with this group is that these kids love to play baseball," said Boulware, who is looking to replace top 2011 graduates Alio Gasbarro (Baldwin-Wallace), Brandon Randolph (Baldwin-Wallace), Will Meador (Case Western Reserve) and Cody Strayer (Shawnee State). Randolph and Strayer were first-team all-league and Strayer was second-team all-district.

"We might still have some growing pains, especially early, but it'll all be worth it," Boulware said.

Cardinals looking to fare better in close games

Thomas finished 16-11 overall a year ago and lost nine players to graduation, including top pitchers Blake Adkins (5 wins) and David Lykens (6 wins).

The Cardinals, who lost to Grove City 10-0 in a second-round Division I district tournament game, went 5-8 in games decided by one run. They might fare better in tight games this spring, however, especially with the top two hitters returning in senior catcher Kirby Boehm (.417) and senior first baseman Dylan Holmes (.385). Boehm made first-team all-league, and both he and Holmes are expected to bat in the middle of the order.

"Things got a little dramatic last year for sure, but that's always fun," said Chris Olson, an assistant under coach Stephen Gussler. "We see it as a positive, really. It gave us more opportunities to see who thrives in pressure situations."

Juniors Nick Highley, who is moving from the infield to center field, and shortstop Ben Miller also return as do seniors Matt Hofacre (2B/OF), Wes Lindenmuth (3B/P) and Drew Taylor (1B/3B/P) and junior Roscoe Blackburn (P), although Blackburn will be sidelined early with an arm injury. Taylor posted a 4-0 record last spring.

Sophomore Kegan Lanter (DH/C/OF) also is expected to be among the offensive catalysts, and classmate Nick Pauley could have a prominent pitching role. The roster also features seniors Jeremy Nikolas (OF) and Kyle Hofacre (OF) and juniors Sean Lima (2B), Emerson Keppler (OF/P) and Jamie Burpee (OF).

The Cardinals open Monday, March 26, at St. Charles. The first OCC-Central game is March 30 at home against Upper Arlington.

"How we pitch and the way we play defensively have always been keys for us," Olson said. "We usually keep the scores down and try to scratch out enough (runs) to win. We have some good offensive pieces back, though."