DeSales High School baseball coach Tom Neubert knew he'd have at least one question when it came to his pitching staff this year, given that his top starter the past three seasons, Greg Gilbert, graduated and is now playing at Butler University.
What Neubert might not have anticipated is having so many potential answers.
"Pitching has absolutely been our bright spot," said Neubert, who is in his 12th season. "We had three scrimmages where we gave up nine hits in 21 innings with eight different guys on the mound. I really had no idea we'd be that solid early, especially when you lose a guy like Greg. With Greg, you always knew who your No. 1 was and what he had. We'd been throwing three guys per game and giving them each two or three innings. I'm extremely pleased."
Senior Joey Velazquez, last year's state co-Player of the Year in Division II and a Michigan recruit in both baseball and football, returns to headline a staff that also is expected to include seniors Colin Doyle, Aaron Kauser, Michael Pallaci and Thomas Sauer, juniors Owen Faulkner and Dominic Verne and sophomore Matthew Stewart.
Velazquez, who predominantly will play center field and was named to the National High School Baseball Coaches Association's state preseason All-American team, batted .525 with 42 hits and 37 RBI and three home runs last season as DeSales went 19-10 overall. He led the team in each of those categories, tying Gilbert in RBI and 2018 graduate Nick Renken in homers.
"Joey is arguably the best player in the state," Neubert said.
"He just works extremely hard. He's our focal point, and he's a guy his teammates rally around. A lot of kids look up to him. He's made a name for himself, but on top of that, he's a great leader and a better young man."
DeSales was 1-4 before playing Pickerington North on April 3. The Stallions' home opener is Thursday, April 4, against Mansfield Madison.
After defeating Parma Padua Franciscan 1-0 in their opener March 25 at The Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Stallions lost to Appleton (Wisconsin) West 11-4 on March 26, Wheaton (Illinois) North 4-0 on March 27, Eastlake North 6-3 on April 28 and Chagrin Falls 10-0 in six innings on March 29.
Sauer, who also plays catcher and third base, is a Muskingum recruit.
According to Neubert, a deep group of outfielders also includes Stewart, seniors Shawn Corkrean, Jonathan Franzmann and Christian Grube and sophomore Austin Mann.
Doyle also plays first base and third base, Kauser also is a catcher and a first baseman and Stewart also plays first base.
Rounding out the roster are senior Andrew Zucker (P/1B/3B), junior Gavin Hawk (C/3B) and sophomores Aiden Cannon (P/2B/SS), Connor Huzicka (P/2B/SS) and Corey Moriarty (2B/SS/P).
DeSales begins CCL play April 12 at home against Watterson. The Stallions went 6-2 in the league last year to share the championship with Hartley, only to be no-hit in a 1-0 loss to the Hawks in a Division II district final.
"That's motivation for me, I know that," Neubert said. "It was an extremely tough way to end the season. We scored 20 runs against them in two (regular-season) games with one of the best offensive teams we've ever had. Our expectation here is always to win the league and win the district. That's never changed and it won't change, but we do have things to figure out."
Volleyball coach shuffling players
The boys volleyball team returns six players -- all seniors, including four starters -- from last season, but 11th-year coach Andy Feltz didn't say the Stallions would necessarily resemble last year's squad that went 7-13 overall and 0-4 in the CCL.
Several players have changed positions, including senior Zach Clarke, who has moved to libero after earning second-team all-state last season as an outside hitter. Senior Will Durbin has moved from middle hitter to opposite-side hitter and classmate Nick Topacio has switched from libero to setter.
"We've had a lot of shuffling on the deck," said Feltz, whose team opened April 1 at Westerville North. "It was a thing where, for instance, I was wondering after last season who'd set for us this year. Nick set some as a libero and he's learned quickly. It made sense to take a look at him. Zach is the best passer we have and it didn't make sense to take him out of the passing rotation. We're just trying to find guys' true strengths. Sometimes that's easier when they've played for you for a while and done lots of different things. Skills reveal themselves."
The other returnees are seniors Chandler Dalton (defensive specialist), Kevin Nguyen (outside hitter) and Aidan Valentine (opposite-side hitter). Nguyen is a returning starter along with Clarke, Durbin and Topacio.
Rounding out the roster are senior Tyree Young (middle hitter), juniors Andrew Connor (middle hitter) and Ethan Ward (outside hitter), sophomore Jude Agapong (middle hitter) and freshman Michael Cavanaugh (outside hitter).
According to Feltz, Cavanaugh will be only the second freshman starter during his tenure and the first since his son, Evan, started at outside hitter from 2012-15. Evan Feltz now plays at St. Francis University.
DeSales began CCL play April 2 at home against Watterson. The Stallions finished third in the league last year behind champion St. Charles (4-0), which went on to win the Division II state championship.
"Our hope is that we find the right combination to be competitive and successful in the CCL and in our region," coach Feltz said. "We just have to find the right combination and need some time to work it out."
Softball team shows plenty of offense
The softball team returns its entire starting lineup, including a four-year starter in shortstop and Ohio Dominican recruit Kyla Payne and four three-year varsity players, as it tries to improve on last season, when it finished 7-13 overall and 2-4 in the CCL.
"(We did) lots of work on strength training and speed development," 14th-year coach Julie Barber said. "There was a great deal of dedication by the girls to improving their swings, especially the ability to extend through the ball and carry it for distance. We are hoping to score some runs this year."
DeSales did just that during a season-opening trip to The Ripken Experience, averaging 6.8 runs in four games. The Stallions were 4-0 before playing Hilliard Davidson on April 2.
Seniors Faith Strapp (2B), Aubrey Wilcox (CF) and Hannah Woods (RF) and junior Jacqui Barber (P) are in their third varsity seasons. Also back are senior Kaitlynn Murray (OF), juniors Megan Husslein (3B) and Nicole Kurtz (LF) and sophomores Kendall Gonya (C) and Mikaylee Harmon (1B).
Strapp is an Urbana recruit.
"We look forward to seeing who emerges as an offensive leader this year," coach Barber said.
"It feels like our entire lineup should present a threat."
DeSales opened March 25 with a 16-0 win over West Liberty (Kentucky) Morgan County. The Stallions followed that up with a 1-0 win by forfeit over Wheaton (Illinois) St. Francis on March 27, a 7-6 victory over Richfield Revere on March 28 and a 3-1 win over Padua Franciscan on March 29.
Rounding out the roster are junior Lauren Kemper (1B/3B), sophomore Lauren Mitevski (OF) and freshmen Jessica Melvin (3B), Andrea Mullenbaugh (C) and Madison Wehrman (P).
DeSales begins CCL play Monday, April 8, at home against defending league champion Ready.
For the first time since 2014, the Stallions will compete in the Division II district tournament. They had been in Division I each of the past four seasons.
Below are the coming schedules for the DeSales baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
April 4 -- Home vs. Mansfield Madison
April 6 -- At Big Walnut
April 8 -- At Sparta Highland
April 9 -- Home vs. Gahanna
April 6 -- Home vs. Springboro
April 5 -- Home vs. Cincinnati Mariemont
April 6 -- Home vs. Cincinnati Sycamore
*April 9 -- Home vs. Columbus School for Girls
April 4 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
April 5 -- At Dublin Coffman
April 6 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty and Upper Arlington
*April 8 -- Home vs. Ready
April 9 -- Home vs. Sparta Highland
*April 10 -- Home vs. Watterson
April 5 -- Whetstone at Park of Roses
April 8 -- At Thomas Worthington
April 9 -- Centennial at Antrim Park
TRACK & FIELD
April 6 -- Stingel Invitational at Pickerington North
April 9 -- At Westerville South with Centennial
*April 9 -- Home vs. St. Charles