With eight returnees, including two who earned all-league honors last year, the Westland High School baseball team enters the season with renewed optimism.
The Cougars are looking to improve on last season's 6-22 finish. They open April 2 at home against Marysville in an OCC-Central Division contest.
"We've made some progress in the last few years -- not exactly the standards that I've set -- but we have definitely improved as a team and as a unit overall," fourth-year coach Neil Bittel said. "I continue to think optimistically that we're going to get over that threshold, be more competitive in our league games and win the games not in our league that we should win.
"I'm again setting the bar for our team at 10 wins."
The top returnees are senior Nick Worthington (P/1B/3B) and junior Zach Mon (SS/C/P), and they're again expected to be Westland's top players.
Mon was named first-team all-league last spring despite missing part the season with a shoulder injury. He led the Cougars in batting average (.433), RBI (18) and runs (15). The injury limited Mon to the designated hitter role when he returned, but he is expected to return to the field this season, mostly at shortstop.
"(Last season) motivates me to stay healthy and keeping my success from last year through this year as well as next year, too," Mon said. "I'm definitely back to normal strength, but I still have to keep working to get better."
Worthington was second-team all-league after batting .265 with 11 runs and 10 RBI. He also had two of his team's six wins on the mound.
Worthington and Mon should anchor the Cougars' pitching staff.
"I just want to go out there and be a leader on the team, try to do my best every day (and) always pick people up," Worthington said. "I want to try to make sure everyone does the best that they can do."
Sophomore Kyle Bowles (2B/SS/P) batted .312 last season and is expected to start at second base.
Also back are seniors Nate Clark (1B/P/C/OF) and Alexis De La Cruz (3B/P/1B), juniors Billy Holland (P/OF) and Braden Schoppert (3B/2B/P) and sophomore Nevada Swackhammer (CF).
Other players are seniors Tyler Gibson (1B/3B), Tommy Goodwin (1B) and Matt Leaman (3B/OF/P), juniors Bryce Murray (SS/OF), Ryan Perez (OF) and Bradlee Swenson (3B/2B), sophomore Trey Holmes (2B/OF) and freshmen Drew Curtiss (C/P) and Brenden Gordon (2B/SS/P).
Bittel said Curtiss will be the starting catcher and has shown promise.
"We expect him to be a four-year starter for us," Bittel said. "He swings a great bat. He has a good, athletic body. He has a lot of work to do, but for us to be the most competitive team that we can, we're going to need him to step up and be a leader even though he's a freshman behind the plate."
Westland also hopes to improve its standing in the OCC-Central after it finished sixth (0-15) last season behind champion Hilliard Davidson (11-4).
The Cougars' most competitive league contest came against Central Crossing, a 7-4 loss in its final game of the season. They play the Comets on April 20, April 23 and May 4.
"It's always a goal of ours first off to be competitive in our league," Bittel said. "Last year we set a goal to get two wins in the league and we didn't get any. The year before, we got one against Central Crossing. For our guys to be competitive in the league, they need to take the extra step and put in the work outside of practice."
Softball coach expects progress
Led by a trio of four-year starters, the softball team hopes to improve on last season's 1-17 finish.
"This is a good group of girls," second-year coach Sarah Shellenbarger said. "Just seeing these girls grow from last year to this year is pretty exciting. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough girls for a j.v. team as I had hoped this year, but we have the foundation set for getting a program up and going. I'm excited."
The Cougars opened March 24 with a doubleheader against Independence and begin OCC-Central play April 11 at home against Marysville.
Leading the way should be seniors Noelle Salyer (C/3B) and Emily Spohn (P), who have been the starting catcher and pitcher since their freshman season. Spohn was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season, and Salyer was special mention all-league.
Senior Emily Smith (1B/OF) was honorable mention all-league last season and also is a four-year starter.
"I hope to send the seniors out on a good note because it's been four years of challenges," Shellenbarger said.
Other returnees are junior Anna Baker (2B/OF) and sophomores Sydnee Avila (OF/3B), Destiny Fout (OF) and Bailey Garner (OF/2B).
Other players are seniors Sarah Bowser (OF) and Giovanna De Los Santos (OF), juniors Sheala Clark (2B) and Savannah Spence (OF) and freshmen Madison Bonnet (OF), Marissa Edington (OF), Tiffany Hunter (OF), Kayla Miller (P/SS), Melina Morley (C/3B), Alyssa Mullet (OF), Fernanda Rojas (2B/1B/OF) and Haley Starkey (C/1B/OF).
Last season, Westland went 0-10 in the OCC-Central to finish sixth behind champion Central Crossing (9-1).
"I really think we're going to be competitive," Shellenbarger said. "There are some teams out there that we can compete with, which is pretty exciting because I hope to send the girls out on a higher note because they've been working really hard."
*April 2 -- vs. Marysville
April 3 -- vs. Briggs
*April 4 -- at Marysville
April 5 -- vs. London
*April 6 -- at Dublin Coffman
April 7 -- at Whitehall (DH)
*April 9 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
April 10 -- vs. Grandview
*April 11 -- vs. Upper Arlington
April 12 -- vs. Eastmoor Academy
*April 13 -- vs. Upper Arlington
April 14 -- vs. Grove City Christian (DH)
*April 16 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*April 18 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
April 19 -- at Grandview
*April 20 -- vs. Central Crossing
April 21 -- vs. Licking Heights (DH)
*April 23 -- at Central Crossing
*April 25 -- vs. Marysville
*April 27 -- at Dublin Coffman
April 28 -- vs. Columbus West (DH)
*April 30 -- vs. Upper Arlington
May 1 -- at London
*May 2 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*May 4 -- vs. Central Crossing
March 24 -- vs. Independence (DH)
March 26 -- vs. Groveport
March 27 -- at Canal Winchester
March 30 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
April 7 -- at Briggs (DH)
*April 11 -- vs. Marysville
*April 12 -- at Dublin Coffman
April 14 -- vs. Marion Harding (DH)
*April 16 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*April 18 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*April 19 -- vs. Central Crossing
April 21 -- at Fisher Catholic
*April 23 -- at Marysville
April 24 -- at Centennial
*April 25 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
*April 26 -- at Upper Arlington
April 28 -- at Whitehall
*April 30 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
*May 2 -- at Central Crossing
May 3 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
Below is the coming schedule for the Westland track & field team:
March 31 -- Newark Invitational