As coach Neil Bittel looks to gain respectability for the Westland High School baseball program, he has taken advantage of his relationships and past experiences in the sport.
The Cougars play the second of a two-game series with Dublin Coffman on Monday, April 9, a program with which Bittel is very familiar.
Bittel, who is a 2008 graduate of Coffman, is in his fourth season at Westland.
As a senior pitcher for the Shamrocks, he was named first-team all-state, all-district and all-league. He remains in contact with veteran Coffman coach Tim Saunders, with Saunders providing advice while also donating equipment to the Westland program.
"We talk all the time," Bittel said. "I've taken some coaches trips with him. Anytime I have a question Tim is always there. He donates things to the Westland program that people don't know about. Part of our batting cage is the turf from Coffman's old football field. He is always helping me out anyway possible and I really look up to him as a mentor."
Saunders, who is in his 31st season at Coffman, said he enjoys promoting the sport while also assisting the younger coaches in the area.
"We talk quite a bit," he said of Bittel. "I tell him to stay positive and have fun with your guys. ... I don't coach (the Westland players), but I talk to them and see how they're doing. I always let them know when they make a good play. He's coming along and he's trying to build things up, but it's going to be tough."
Austin Cousino, a 2011 graduate of Coffman and former professional baseball player, also has assisted in Westland's development.
Cousino, who was a teammate of Bittel for one season at Coffman, attended a Coffman-Westland game last season and provided tips to the Cougars. He also has donated bats to the program.
After playing for three seasons at the University of Kentucky, Cousino was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the sixth pick of the third round (80th overall) in the Major League Baseball draft in 2014. He reached the Triple-A level in 2016, his final professional season.
Cousino is currently serving as a graduate assistant and head of video for the Mississippi State baseball program. He was recently named as a hitting coach for the Amsterdam Mohawks, a collegiate summer baseball team in Amsterdam, New York.
Bittel was 0-7 against his alma mater before the teams met April 6 at Coffman, with the most competitive game a 7-4 loss April 22, 2016. He was 13-68 in three-plus seasons before the Cougars played Marysville on April 5 in an OCC-Central Division game.
"(Returning to Coffman is) definitely nostalgic. I definitely have a lot of good memories there," Bittel said. "I tell my guys that's probably the best field that they're ever going to play on. I love going back there. There are a lot of familiar faces when I go over to shake hands with Tim and some of the other coaches. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Dublin Coffman's program."
Like most teams in central Ohio, weather has affected Westland's early season schedule, as the team had played just one game heading into its rematch with Marysville. The Cougars lost to visiting Marysville 16-1 in six innings April 2.
Bittel saw several bright spots in the loss, including the play of junior shortstop Zach Mon.
"We had four good innings and two terrible innings and that's always been our problem," Bittel said. "Zach had a hell of a defensive game. He made some plays up the middle that I didn't think he'd be able to get to. He went 3-for-3 at the plate, so there are things that we can do well. It's the same problem, it's putting together 21 outs."
Track teams open season at Newark
Track and field coach Tim Eckard was pleased with his teams' effort in the season-opening Newark Invitational on March 31.
The boys finished 16th (5 points) of 16 teams behind champion Big Walnut (99). Matt Bailey, Marcus Jones, Kyle West and Arty Washington were sixth in the 400-meter relay (46.89 seconds), and Abdi Aden was seventh in the 300 hurdles (44.82).
The girls did not score as Olentangy Orange finished first (103) of 14 teams. Brenna Gilliam, Sofia Rodriguez, Arryanna Redd and Lisette Sevilla were 10th in the 400 relay (1:01.65), and Aja Nathans was 13th in the 3,200 (13:50.92).
"I love how our kids competed," Eckard said. "We knew going in that points were going to be hard to come by, as this was one of the most competitive meets in the state this early on. What I loved to see is our kids, even the young ones, did not back down from stiff competition. Facing this tough competition early on will only help us as we go through the season."
The Cougars, who competed in the Fairfield Union Invitational on April 7, are looking forward to the Best of the South-West meet Friday, April 13, at Central Crossing.
Last season, the boys finished second (63) behind Grove City (85) and ahead of Central Crossing (59) and Franklin Heights (44). The girls placed fourth (26) behind Grove City (94), Central Crossing (77) and Franklin Heights (56).
"I always look forward to competing in the Best of the South-West meet," Eckard said. "Our kids have a strong desire to be considered the best in an event in our (school) district. To be the best in an event in our district, you have to prove yourself at this meet. Most of our kids have competed with and against many of the kids from other schools, so the competition is fierce.
"Our kids and coaching staff have a lot of respect for the three other track programs in our district because they are class programs (led) by really good coaches."
Softball coach likes team's work ethic
The softball team was 0-3 before playing Briggs in a doubleheader April 7.
The Cougars open OCC-Central play Wednesday, April 11, against visiting Marysville.
Westland lost to Groveport 21-0 on March 26 in five innings, Thomas Worthington 8-3 on March 30 and Canal Winchester 18-4 on April 2 in five innings.
"The girls have been working very hard and growing, and the improvement is beginning to translate to their play on the field," coach Sarah Shellenbarger said. "Unfortunately, their efforts haven't translated into victories yet, but that will come. They're beginning to do the little things that create the big things. Their hard work will pay off. I'm proud of their growth to this point."
Below are the coming schedules for the Westland baseball, softball and track & field teams:
*April 9 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman
April 10 -- Home vs. Grandview
*April 11 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
April 12 -- Home vs. Eastmoor Academy
*April 13 -- Home vs. UA
April 14 -- Home vs. Grove City Christian (DH)
*April 11 -- Home vs. Marysville
*April 12 -- At Coffman
April 14 -- Home vs. Marion Harding (DH)
TRACK & FIELD
April 10 -- At Grove City with Grandview and Teays Valley
April 13 -- Best of the South-West at Central Crossing