Adding some zip to his fastball isn't all Mitchell Smith has worked on this season.

As one of only four returnees from the Pickerington High School North baseball team's Division I state championship squad of 2016, the junior pitcher and his veteran colleagues find themselves reminding their teammates about everything, from where to position themselves on the field to how much time field works takes after a game to what time practices and other team functions actually begin.

"Coach (Tim Thomas) has a '15-minute rule' that he is pretty tight on," said Smith, an Ohio State commit. "He wants you to be wherever you need to be 15 minutes early. We have field work we have to do after the game. We have to be sharp when it comes to our stretching. At the same time, we have to remember to have some fun with it.

"Our job is to show these guys how we run things. We have a lot of great athletes this year. We are excited about that. They will be really good players. We're excited to get back out here and continue the program."

Seniors Alec Bradbury (INF/P) and Dillan Smith (INF/OF/P) and sophomore Drew Salinas (INF/P/C) are the other returnees from last year, when North reeled off a magical postseason run and defeated Cincinnati La Salle 2-1 in the state final.

Bradbury and Dillan Smith are the only seniors on a roster that also includes eight juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen. Bradbury is a Jackson College recruit, and Smith has committed to play for Ashland University.

North was 1-3 overall before its home opener against Pickerington Central on April 4. The Panthers opened March 25 with two losses at The Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, falling 4-2 to Pittsburgh Upper St. Clair and 7-3 to St. Charles (Illinois) North, before a 6-2 win at Watkins Memorial on March 28.

North dropped its OCC-Ohio Division opener, 8-1 at Central on April 3.

"We are so young and so inexperienced to varsity baseball," said Thomas, who is in his 12th season. "We're inexperienced about how we do our pre-game, where we stand, all the little things. Last year, we had the same number of kids back, but I also had 10 or 11 seniors. They were 18-year-old boys as opposed to 14- and 15-year-old boys trying to learn all this. It will come. They're athletic, hard-working and coachable, but it's different coaching 14-year-olds as opposed to 18-year-olds."

Rounding out what Thomas called a roster full of versatile players are juniors Mitchell Davis (INF/OF/P), Ryan Davis (INF), Colin Floyd (P/INF), Matt Sciacca (P/OF), Troy Swanson (OF), Thomas Townsend (INF) and Jaret Wilcox (OF), sophomores Jake Glanzman (INF/P), Cam Jenkins (OF), Alec Mendoza (INF/P), Brock Vinci (INF/P) and Luke Wilcox (C/P) and freshmen Jarrett Barnes (INF/OF) and Jacob Chadwick (INF/P).

North's home opener was scheduled for April 4 against Central.

Last year, the Panthers finished 23-9 overall and 8-6 in the league, tying Central for third place behind champion Gahanna (12-2).

"Our goal is like it is every year, to compete every game and be the best competitors we can be out there," Mitchell Smith said. "If we can do that, we feel pretty good about our chances."

Early adversity hits
veteran softball team

Versatility is a buzzword for sixth-year softball coach Sarah Looker, and unfortunately for the Panthers, they're already having to dig into their roster to offset a few early-season injuries.

North, which was 2-3 overall before playing DeSales on April 5, has seven seniors on its roster but will be without two of them for at least the next few weeks. Pitcher Emily Montgomery has a partially torn quadriceps tendon in her left leg and dislocated her left kneecap during a scrimmage in late March, and utility player Maddi Mushill injured her right knee shortly before the season.

Both are fourth-year varsity players.

"We're carrying about 17 (players) right now on varsity. We did that so we could have that versatility," said Looker, who has kept between 12 and 14 players in recent years. "If we need a baserunner or someone to fill in a void hitting-wise, or we need a better bunter, we have that."

Among the other leaders of the senior class is catcher Shelby Baker, who led North in batting average (.469), hits (38) and RBI (28) last season. She was second on the team in home runs a year ago with six, behind junior first baseman/catcher Rachel Jensen's seven.

Mushill batted .361 with four home runs last year.

The rest of the senior class consists of Megan Bebout (SS/OF), Kaitlyn Carpenter (SS/OF), Kasey Heckathorn (OF) and Megan McMullen (OF).

North went 2-1 on March 25 at The Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, beating Avonworth (Pennsylvania) 14-13 in eight innings and Uniontown (Pennsylvania) Laurel Highlands 7-3 and losing to Johnson City (Tennessee) University School 10-9.

The Panthers then lost 9-3 at Hilliard Davidson on March 29 and 15-4 in five innings at Upper Arlington on April 3.

"Our quickness is going to be one of our big components," McMullen said. "Our other strengths ... probably one of them is how well we get along off the field. Positive attitudes will be huge."

Rounding out the roster are juniors Sophie Moller (C/3B), Maddy Schultz (P) and Mia Smallwood (1B), sophomore Casey Madison (P/SS) and freshmen Carley Auten (INF), Mackenzie Blazek (utility), Emma Dean (utility), Megan Ebbrecht (utility) and Morgan Ebbrecht (utility).

"I see a lot of talent. They pick up things fast," Bebout said. "If they don't know something, they learn fast."

Last season, North finished 9-15 overall, losing to Davidson 5-2 in the second round of the Division I district tournament, and went 5-9 in the OCC-Ohio to place sixth behind champion Gahanna (12-2).

Volleyball team
in rebuilding mode

All of the primary contributors that helped the boys volleyball team make its first Division I state appearance last year have graduated, and while only four players who saw varsity time are back, the Panthers know they have to measure progress incrementally.

Video •See highlights of the Pickerington North boys volleyball team's loss to Beavercreek.

"We're still green with being able to make adjustments during the game, and that's the experience factor, plus experience with each other," 14th-year coach Marci Truex said. "They still have to find their comfort level, and when you don't have your full squad and what you are used to running, you have to be able to make adjustments."

North was 1-3 overall before its OCC-Capital opener April 4 at Central.

Those who saw playing time last season when the Panthers finished 22-6 overall and lost to Centerville 25-23, 30-28, 26-24 in a state semifinal are seniors Alex Johnson (outside hitter) and Andrae Thomas (outside hitter), junior Kyle Roach (libero) and sophomore Bradley Johnson (setter).

Rounding out the roster are seniors Jacob Marmaduke (middle hitter), Von Mbah (middle hitter), Anand Punwani (setter) and Hayden Yamamoto (defensive specialist/outside hitter), junior Jack Kowalczyk (outside hitter) and sophomores Danny Corrigan (middle hitter) and Jason Miller (defensive specialist).

North opened this season with a home tri-meet March 25, losing to Stow-Munroe Falls (17-25, 25-21, 25-22) and Beavercreek (25-13, 25-15). The Panthers lost to former league rival Mount Vernon 25-21, 26-28, 25-19, 25-19 on March 28 before sweeping visiting Licking Heights 25-13, 25-9, 25-11 on March 30.

"For the first match, I thought we played all right," Truex said March 25. "There weren't any real breakdowns in game situations. Fundamentally, we made errors we shouldn't have, but those are fixable."

North was 10-0 in the OCC-Capital last year, winning the league title ahead of runners-up Mount Vernon and Olentangy (both 6-4). The Panthers also went 13-0 at home, led by arguably the best player in program history in 2016 graduate Dejon Clark.

Last year, Clark had 352 kills and 235 assists and was named first-team all-state and East Region Player of the Year.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BASEBALL

March 25 -- Pittsburgh Upper St. Clair and St. Charles (Ill.) North at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 29 -- at Watkins Memorial

*April 3 -- at Pickerington Central

*April 4 -- vs. Pickerington Central

*April 5 -- at Gahanna

*April 7 -- vs. Gahanna

April 8 -- at St. Charles

*April 10 -- at Lancaster

*April 12 -- vs. Lancaster

April 13 -- vs. Whetstone

April 15 -- vs. Canal Winchester (DH)

*April 17 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

*April 19 -- at Reynoldsburg

*April 21 -- at Grove City

April 22 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne

*April 24 -- vs. Grove City

*April 26 -- vs. Pickerington Central

*April 28 -- at Gahanna

April 29 -- vs. Olentangy (DH)

*May 1 -- at Lancaster

*May 3 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

May 4 -- vs. Hartley

*May 5 -- at Grove City

May 12 -- at Newark Catholic

SOFTBALL

March 25 -- Avonworth (Pa.), Johnson City (Tenn.) University School and Uniontown (Pa.) Laurel Highlands at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

March 29 -- at Hilliard Davidson

April 3 -- at Upper Arlington

April 5 -- at DeSales

April 6 -- at Liberty Union

April 8 -- vs. Central Crossing and Watkins Memorial

April 10 -- vs. Canal Winchester

*April 12 -- vs. Pickerington Central

*April 13 -- at Gahanna

*April 17 -- at Lancaster

*April 19 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

*April 20 -- at Grove City

*April 24 -- at Pickerington Central

*April 26 -- vs. Gahanna

*April 27 -- vs. Lancaster

April 28 -- vs. Newark

*May 1 -- at Reynoldsburg

*May 3 -- vs. Grove City

May 5 -- Stow in Gahanna Showcase

May 6 -- Circleville and Teays Valley in Gahanna Showcase

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

March 25 -- vs. Beavercreek and Stow-Munroe Falls

March 28 -- vs. Mount Vernon

March 30 -- vs. Licking Heights

*April 4 -- at Pickerington Central

*April 6 -- vs. Upper Arlington

April 8 -- at Cleveland St. Ignatius with Akron Hoban

*April 11 -- vs. Gahanna

*April 13 -- at Hilliard Davidson

*April 18 -- vs. Dublin Coffman

*April 20 -- vs. Pickerington Central

April 21 -- at Olentangy Liberty with Dublin Scioto

*April 25 -- at Upper Arlington

*April 27 -- at Gahanna

*May 2 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

*May 4 -- at Dublin Coffman

May 5 -- Spike for Tykes at Columbus Convention Center

May 9 -- at St. Charles

May 10 -- vs. Olentangy

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the North boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis and track & field teams:

BOYS LACROSSE

*April 6 -- Home vs. Gahanna

April 8 -- Tunkhannock (Pa.) St. Michael's at Saltsburg (Pa.) Kiski School

April 9 -- At Saltsburg (Pa.) Kiski School

*April 11 -- At Newark

GIRLS LACROSSE

*April 6 -- At Gahanna

April 11 -- Home vs. Hartley

BOYS TENNIS

*April 6 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central

April 11 -- At Watterson

April 12 -- Home vs. Wellington

TRACK & FIELD

April 8 -- Stingel Invitational at home

April 11 -- At Hilliard Bradley with Upper Arlington

*League contest