The New Albany High School baseball team couldn't wait to turn the page from a 14-3 loss to Canal Winchester on April 17, but as the Eagles disbanded for the night, coach Dave Starling couldn't help noting that Matt Uhlenbrock displayed his typical focus despite the adversity.
The senior second baseman had the Eagles' only hit off Indians starter Luke Williamson, a single in the first inning, and he was the last player to leave the field after postgame cleanup work.
Uhlenbrock is in his second year as a starter, but Starling -- who is in his second year as New Albany's coach -- said Uhlenbrock has come a long way from a trying junior season in which he was solid defensively but was not a primary contributor at the plate.
"My message to him was nothing more than he had one more shot at this to be the best player he can possibly be, and he has been," Starling said. "He struggled last year offensively, all-around really, and just came back this year and has been so much more prepared to play the game. He is doing everything well.
"We will be all right following his lead, doing the things he's been doing and working hard."
One of 10 seniors who is helping New Albany contend for its first OCC-Capital Division championship since 2011, Uhlenbrock had a team-high .413 batting average with 17 hits and 14 RBI through 17 games. The Eagles were 12-5 overall and 7-2 in the league before playing Franklin Heights on April 24.
"Last year I was too tentative (hitting) at times, and this year I have come out and been more aggressive," Uhlenbrock said. "I've been working the count more and having fun. The big thing was talking to the coaches and listening to their advice. You have to get ahead in the count. That's probably been the biggest thing for me."
A state-record game paved the way for Uhlenbrock's varsity debut as a sophomore. He was called up during the Eagles' 6-5 loss to Big Walnut that took 22 innings and spanned three days, finally ending May 6, 2015, as the longest game in state history.
Through last week, Uhlenbrock had started every game at second base dating to the start of last season.
"He is just one of these guys who leads by example," Starling said. "His play has been phenomenal."
Uhlenbrock plans to attend Notre Dame and major in accounting, although he did not rule out walking on to the baseball team.
Off the field, Uhlenbrock is involved in National Honor Society and also volunteers for multiple organizations, including Mid-Ohio Food Bank and Operation Buckeye.
For now, he is most concerned with helping keep the Eagles in the league race.
New Albany lost again to Canal Winchester, 3-0 on April 19, and began the week 1.5 games behind the Indians in the OCC-Capital. The Indians were 8-0 in the league before playing Newark on April 24, but New Albany is not losing sight of the fact that it entered this week with six OCC-Capital games remaining.
"We have great chemistry," Uhlenbrock said. "We have been on a roll. We need to keep going. We are playing good team baseball. One guy is not carrying everything. Everybody is contributing."
Despite having just four wins entering the week, softball coach Stephanie Andrick said the team's improvement has not always been obvious simply from looking at scores.
Three of the Eagles' eight losses before April 24 were by one run.
"Things are not going their way and a lot of games have been close, but they know how to battle back," Andrick said after an 8-4 loss to Jonathan Alder on April 17. "They take every opportunity to learn and grow and be successful. Success looks different to everybody. Based on where we've been, losing a few games (to begin the league schedule) and then coming out and battling Jonathan Alder, that is success because that is growth."
New Albany was 4-8 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Capital before playing Newark on April 24. The Eagles got their first league win April 19, 7-3 over Canal Winchester.
That win also snapped a three-game losing streak.
Andrick said the team has adopted more of an aggressive approach at the plate, including jumping on pitches early in the count.
Omega Garrett and Taylor Rhea have split time pitching, and Andrick has worked freshman Halle Galbraith in at catcher.
"(Garrett and Rhea) have worked every day to hit their spots and improve," Andrick said. "A lot of girls have had the chance to step in and perform. For a freshman (Galbraith) to come in and do that, that was impressive. She's had some big hits. She is doing her best to produce when she can."
McDonald, Woods lead
track teams at Liberty
Although the boys and girls track and field teams both finished seventh in the Freedom Relays on April 21 at Olentangy Liberty, the Eagles had plenty of highlights to build on.
On the boys side, Kenny McDonald was the top individual in the high jump, leaping 20 feet, 7 1/4 inches. Jaden Woods cleared 5-8 in the high jump, tying five others for first, and the 800 relay was third in 1 minute, 34.1 seconds with Michiah Burton, Alex Cox, McDonald and Drew Watson.
New Albany finished seventh (12) of eight teams behind champion Olentangy Orange (68).
The girls had 11 points in the eight-team field behind co-champions Orange and Westerville Central (60). They were led by the third-place 1,600 relay (4:18.46) of Jalyn Austin, Mia Lobel, Grace Lowe and Lizzy Owosu-Antwi.
The Eagles have two more relay meets coming, as they travel to Canal Winchester on Friday, April 28, for the Milt Will Relays and then participate in the Licking Heights Relays on Tuesday, May 2.