Despite his team playing in three consecutive Division I district finals, Westerville Central High School baseball coach Jeff Keifer is downplaying this season's expectations.
Keifer entered the season cautiously optimistic, as he must replenish a pitching staff hit hard by graduation.
Central lost to eventual state champion Pickerington North 1-0 in a district final last season.
The Warhawks have played in district title games in five of the past six seasons.
"It's different this season," said Keifer, who is in his 10th season. "The expectations aren't quite as high and that's a relief in some ways. ... We had a big bull's-eye and we didn't handle that as well as we probably should have, so this year the expectations are tapered a little bit. We've gone back to (being) another face in the crowd and that's refreshing."
The Warhawks opened the season by going 3-3 in a series of games from March 26-31 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
"It was great competition," Keifer said. "We grew together as a team and saw a lot of improvement. We learned what we need to do to be successful. Overall, it was a fun and productive experience."
Central opened OCC-Buckeye Division play April 3 against Westerville North. The game was suspended because of darkness with the score tied at 2 in the seventh inning and was scheduled to resume April 14.
The Warhawks return eight players, including senior Jalen Arms (INF/P), who was honorable mention all-district, and senior Evan Ingram (C/INF/P), who was honorable mention all-league. "Our chemistry is probably the best it's been since I've been here," Ingram said. "We're really good friends on and off the field, so it's nice to support each other. I think this team can go far."
Also back are seniors J.D. Bagley (OF), Riley Bullock (1B/P), Evan Davis (INF/P), Brandon Miller (1B) and Tate Skipton (INF/OF) and junior Sean Osborne (P/INF).
Keifer expects Osborne to be a key member of the pitching staff.
Other players are senior Jake Liffey (P/INF), juniors Matt Beck (OF/P), Daniel Cellars (INF), Drew Fischer (P/INF), Matt Keifer (INF/P/OF), Jacoby Maze (INF/P), Dax Mickley (OF), J.D. Nickel (C/OF), Max Palmer (INF), Noah Ring (P/OF), Michael Sherry (INF/P) and Allen Smith (OF) and sophomores Brett Dahman (C/INF) and Camron Hubble (C/INF).
Last season, the Warhawks went 9-5 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish second behind Hilliard Darby (11-3). They finished 20-10 overall.
The OCC-Buckeye also includes Westerville South, Olentangy, Olentangy Liberty and Olentangy Orange.
Key losses to graduation include Gavin Lyon (P/OF), who was OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year, first-team all-district and second-team all-state. He went 10-0 with a 0.58 ERA, 102 strikeouts and 29 walks in 60 innings.
"Gavin is a once in a coaching career kind of player," Keifer said. "He was 24-0 in high school and 10-0 his senior year. I know guys are trying to be that person and I told them you don't have to be that person. (We) just have to find two or three people that can get 10 wins."
Another graduate, Noah West (SS), was first-team all-district and all-league after hitting .318 and scoring a team-high 33 runs. West and Lyon are playing at Ohio State.
Also lost to graduation was Daniel Kreuzer (C/P), who was first-team all-district and second-team all-league.
Softball team returns
Looking for its fourth consecutive league title and coming off a 23-5 season, the softball team returns a solid group led by senior shortstop and Ohio State commit Megan McMenemy.
She led the Warhawks in batting average (.547), runs (52), doubles (16), triples (3), home runs (8) and stolen bases (15) last season. She also had 27 RBI and did not strike out in 112 plate appearances, and was named OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year along with first-team all-state and all- district.
"I'm expecting a big year out of her," eighth-year coach Brian Wamsley said. "She has some pretty high goals."
Other returning starters are seniors Anna Bonitatibus (3B) and Hannah Richardson (P) and sophomores Avrey Schumacher (OF) and Sydney Stepp (P).
Richardson and Stepp again are expected to split time in the circle.
Also back are senior Erin Robichaud (OF), junior Hope Miller (C) and sophomore Kylie Collins (2B).
Other players are seniors Samantha Zwiesler (1B/OF) and Nikki Rios (OF), junior Skylar Schorling (1B/OF), sophomores Sara Bentz (2B/SS/OF) and Lily Linke (C/3B) and freshmen Cami Compson (OF/P), Rachel Fields (P) and Danielle Ingram (OF/C).
"We have plenty of pitching," Wamsley said. "I'm impressed with our defense. We've been working a lot since practices started on hitting, and the girls did a tremendous amount of work on their own through the winter."
The Warhawks went 3-2 in the season-opening Grand Strand Softball Classic from March 27-30 in Myrtle Beach.
"We had a good week with many new players at new positions," Wamsley said. "We played great competition all week, which I hope will prepare us for the upcoming conference play."
Central opens OCC-Buckeye play Wednesday, April 12, against visiting North.
Last season, Central won the OCC-Cardinal at 13-1.
A key loss to graduation was catcher Ellyn Briggs, who played in 101 varsity games and hit .358 with 19 RBI last season.
Girls basketball team
to have new coach
Saying it was time to move "in a different direction," athletics director Andy Ey recently announced that girls basketball coach Jamiya Pride will not return next season.
Pride led the Warhawks for six seasons. They finished 1-22 overall and 0-10 in the OCC-Buckeye this season after back-to-back winning seasons in 2014-15 (16-7) and 2015-16 (12-11).
"We had to go in a different direction because -- and not to necessarily coach Pride's fault -- but there were just some circumstances that were making it very difficult for him to be the coach here and it was making it very difficult for him to be successful here," Ey said. "We felt in order for us to be successful we needed to move on."
Under Pride, the Warhawks went 48-88 overall and 31-49 in OCC play.
"Although I wasn't able to accomplish everything I sat out to do at Central, it still was an enjoyable experience, but after six seasons they have decided to go in a different direction," Pride said. "This season I came across many things that just weren't in my control and when you're consistently dealing with those types of issues, the end of the road comes sooner than you want it to. My time there had run its course."
March 26 -- Canonsburg (Pa.) Canon-McMillan at Ripken Griffith Field in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
March 27 -- Hampshire (Ill.) Burlington Central at Ripken Polo Grounds Field and Bethesda (Md.) Landon School at Ripken Crosley Field in Myrtle Beach
March 28 -- Lake Forest (Ill.) at Myrtle Beach Pelicans Stadium
March 30 -- Palos Heights (Ill.) Chicago Christian at Pelicans Stadium
March 31 -- Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell at Ripken Griffith Field
*April 3 -- at Westerville North
April 4 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
*April 5 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 7 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 10 -- at Olentangy
April 11 -- vs. DeSales
*April 12 -- vs. Olentangy
*April 14 -- vs. Westerville North
*April 17 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
April 18 -- vs. Teays Valley
*April 19 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*April 21 -- at Westerville South
April 22 -- vs. Dublin Jerome and Dublin Scioto
*April 24 -- vs. Westerville South
*April 26 -- vs. Westerville North
*April 28 -- at Olentangy Orange
April 29 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
*May 1 -- at Olentangy
*May 3 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
*May 5 -- at Westerville South
March 27 -- Uniontown Green in Grand Strand Softball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
March 28 -- Maple Park (Ill.) Kaneland in Grand Strand Softball Classic
March 29 -- North Royalton and Myrtle Beach in Grand Strand Softball Classic
March 30 -- Ripley (W.Va.) in Grand Strand Softball Classic
April 4 -- vs. Central Crossing
April 5 -- at Watterson
April 11 -- at Bloom-Carroll
*April 12 -- vs. Westerville North
*April 13 -- at Olentangy Orange
April 15 -- at Watkins Memorial with Mount Vernon
*April 17 -- at Olentangy
*April 19 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
*April 20 -- at Westerville South
*April 24 -- at Westerville North
*April 26 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 27 -- vs. Olentangy
April 28 -- at Canal Winchester
April 29 -- Marysville and Teays Valley at Lancaster
*May 1 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*May 3 -- vs. Westerville South
May 5 -- at Liberty Union
Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 6 -- At Olentangy Orange
*April 11 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*April 6 -- Home vs. Orange
*April 11 -- At Olentangy
*April 6 -- Home vs. Westerville North
April 7 -- Home vs. Marysville
April 10 -- At Gahanna
*April 11 -- At Orange
TRACK & FIELD
April 8 -- Red Edwards Golden Eagle Relays at Big Walnut
April 11 -- Home vs. New Albany and Reynoldsburg
April 7 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
*April 11 -- At Olentangy