Perhaps the loudest Upper Arlington High School baseball coach Tom Marker got during and after a 7-1 win over Dresden Tri-Valley on March 28 was when he had to remind a young helper to keep his rake on the dirt around home plate and not drag it into the surrounding grass.
With seven seniors and 10 juniors on the roster, that's by design.
"We've tried to let our guys do a little more (on their own) and we do a little less coaching during games. We try to do more instruction during practice. Our take as coaches is the field is their playground; let them play," said Marker, who is in his fourth season. "A lot of that is a credit to them. That's them doing what they do. When it's a game situation, we let them do their thing. They're veteran guys. They should know what to do.
"You won't hear us coaching as much."
Whatever UA is doing mostly proved correct during the first week of the season, as the Bears were 4-2 overall and 0-1 in the OCC-Central Division before playing Central Crossing on April 4. UA averaged 5.8 runs in its first five games, beating Hilliard Darby (5-2 on March 24), Mount Vernon (8-3 on March 26), Tri-Valley and West Chester Lakota West (8-5 on March 31) and losing to Massillon Jackson (3-2 on March 31) but began league play April 2 with a 10-0 loss to Central Crossing in five innings.
Three of the Bears' top four hitters are back from a year ago, when UA went 17-11 overall and 9-5 in the OCC-Central and lost to Darby 2-0 in a Division I district semifinal.
Senior outfielder Brandon Horsley, who led the team in batting average (.449), hits (35) and home runs (4) last season, leads a group of returnees that also includes juniors Tommy Dilz (1B/P), Sammy Sass (C) and Charlie Fleming (INF/P).
Sass, a Wright State commit, batted .329 last year and Dilz hit .306. Both are third-year starters.
"There are a lot of signs of maturity on the field," said Horsley, a fourth-year starter who committed to Ashland on March 28, six days after he was medically cleared following a torn right ACL suffered during a football practice in August. "We're starting a lot of juniors and seniors. Last year, I don't think we were hitting as well as this year. We have a group of guys that just really gets the job done."
Horsley had a solo home run against Lakota West.
Fleming will help anchor the pitching rotation that also will include juniors Cody Darling and Ben Krimm. He was 3-1 with a 1.00 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 12 walks in 28 innings last season.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Dakota DeStefano (INF/P), Andrew Hayek (OF), Kyle Hench (2B/P), Henry Ledman (C), Austen Sawyer (OF/P) and Mason Ward (3B/P), juniors Steven Bair (OF/P), Jake Cannon (OF/P), Ethan Hammerberg (INF/P), Daniel Jaskot (INF) and Andrew Whetsall (SS/P) and sophomores Matthew Green (OF/P) and Jacob Leve (INF).
The Bears tied Dublin Coffman for third in the OCC-Central last year behind champion Hilliard Davidson (11-4).
"Coach Marker preaches all the time about doing your job. When you have guys on base, get them over and get them in," Dilz said. "We are just working on certain things each game that will have a big effect. As we come down the stretch, those will be important in the big games and playoff time."
scoring runs early
Junior shortstop Olivia Carlton led a hot start for the softball team, which scored 30 runs in its first two games but just four runs in its next two contests and is 2-2 entering a Friday, April 6, home game against Westerville Central.
Carlton had 10 hits and four home runs through four games. All of her homers came on March 24, when UA began the season with a 21-11, five-inning win at Ready and followed that up with a 9-2 win over London. Carlton homered twice in each game.
The Bears lost to Watterson 16-4 in their home opener March 27 and fell to Dublin Scioto 10-0 in six innings on April 2.
"Offensively, we'll do well," first-year coach Terry Streng said before the loss to Scioto. "The kids are working hard and have good command of the strike zone. They put the bat on the ball. The biggest key for us will be how our pitching develops over the course of the season."
Streng replaced Brandon Twiss, who was 22-28 in two seasons.
Streng graduated from UA in 1969 and played baseball at Ohio State from 1970-73. He was an assistant under former Bears coach Todd DelBoccio in 2008 and 2009 and has coached baseball, boys basketball, boys golf and girls volleyball at UA, Columbus East and Northland.
Last season, UA finished 9-14 overall and 3-7 in the OCC-Central and lost to Hilliard Bradley 8-1 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
Other returnees include seniors Gigi Danes (CF), Molly Schweitzer (3B), Amanda Ventresca (1B/OF) and Sara Viernes (RF/1B) and juniors Kaylee Ballou (SS), Jackie Kasai (OF) and Becca Turner (C).
Junior Madison Pritchett and freshman Maxine McCraw will split pitching duties.
"(McCraw) has done pretty well. She throws hard and has a lot of confidence and ability," Streng said. "(Sophomore) Demi Sauter might pitch eventually. We're keeping our fingers crossed that she'll be able to."
According to Streng, Sauter is sidelined because of persistent back issues. A return date is uncertain.
Rounding out the roster are senior Lydia Yahn (P/OF), juniors Hanna Blake (C/OF), Sabrina Good (OF) and Logan Hiller (OF) and sophomores Taylor Baran (2B) and Megan Harold (C).
"There's still a lot of competition going on for spots," Streng said. "Hopefully, we'll sort some things out (this) week. I'm very optimistic about our season. We've been hitting the ball well. I think that can continue."
UA begins OCC-Central play Wednesday, April 11, at Central Crossing. The Bears tied Coffman for fourth in the league last year behind the Comets (9-1).