The 61 runs that the New Albany High School baseball team scored in its first six games, all of which the Eagles won, proved to be exactly what fourth-year coach Dave Starling wanted to see as his squad began its quest to build on last year's Division I regional runner-up finish.
"What's so exciting is how we're performing offensively," Starling said. "Our pitching staff won't give up a lot of runs. If our offense produces a few runs, or more than a few like we've been doing, we'll be in good shape."
Most of the Eagles' top pitchers and several of their best hitters return from last year's team that went 20-9 overall and 11-4 in the OCC-Capital Division, losing to eventual state champion Olentangy Liberty 8-1 in a regional final. Along the way, New Albany won its first district championship since 2010.
Junior Jack Sokol, a Purdue commit, went 9-0 with a 1.05 ERA, 29 walks and 53 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings. Senior Parker Thompson (P/C/1B/3B/OF) had a team-best .400 batting average with 32 hits and 25 RBI, just ahead of junior Jimmy Stevens (2B, .381, 37 hits, 20 RBI) and senior Ethan Swincicki (C, .380, 30 hits, 20 RBI).
New Albany was 6-0 before playing Olentangy on April 3.
"I love Jack's attitude. He wants the ball in his hands. He won't back down from anybody," Starling said of his top starter. "We literally have 12 arms, and they're good ones."
Other pitchers include seniors Austin Erdely, Spencer Hill and Vaughn Hoff, juniors Kevin Fee, Dillon Masters, Sam Smith and Mike Sokol -- Jack's twin brother -- and sophomore Ian Hoff. Erdely, who also plays center field, is an Indianapolis recruit.
All six of the Eagles' games last week were part of the Florida Baseball Beach Bash in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
New Albany opened March 24 with a 19-1, five-inning win over Dayton Oakwood, and followed that with victories against Bellbrook (7-2 on March 25), Tipp City Tippecanoe (10-0 in six innings March 26), Santa Rosa Beach (Florida) South Walton (6-3 on March 26), Fort Walton Beach (2-1 in eight innings March 28) and Carlisle (Pennsylvania) (17-1 in five innings March 29).
Swincicki had two-run home runs against Bellbrook and South Walton.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Michael Bohman (OF), Connor Cook (2B/OF), Cole Fisher (OF), Tucker King (C/1B/3B), Jack Scharfe (C/SS), Nick Shroyer (SS), Ben Smith (P/1B) and Grant Whitaker (1B) and juniors Lucas Akin (P/C), Jacob Cooper (OF), Charlie Pine (C/3B) and Spencer Tammaro (OF).
The Eagles begin OCC-Capital play Friday, April 5, at Newark. New Albany finished second in the league last year behind Big Walnut (12-3).
Starling had been excited for this season ever since last year ended, and not just because of how that happened.
"The guys know that as soon as that last pitch was thrown in the regional final, I was looking very forward to this year. They've fed off that," he said. "They're on a mission. They're pretty focused as far as learning from last year and doing even more now."
Veteran team greets new softball coach
Seven returning starters are among nine letterwinners back for the softball team under first-year coach Aaron Hall, and he is expecting a lot of those veteran players as the Eagles try to break back above .500.
"The leadership, success, energy and game momentum will be determined by the upperclassmen. They have been really dedicated to attending and getting better daily once we started practicing in February," Hall said. "Our four seniors have played travel softball and will all prove to be a considerable part of the success in the day-to-day practices and games."
New Albany opened April 1 at Pickerington North.
Seniors Alex Howell (OF), Taylor Rhea (P/INF), Kirsten Tibbitts (INF) and Emma Valley (INF) lead a group of returning starters that also includes junior Halle Galbraith (C/INF) and sophomores Olivia Angles (P/INF) and Sophia Halliday (C/INF/OF).
The Eagles' other returning letterwinners are junior Riley Roberts (OF) and sophomore Alexandra VanZant (OF/1B).
Hall was New Albany Middle School's coach the past two seasons and succeeds Stephanie Andrick, who stepped down after three seasons before giving birth to triplets.
New Albany went 9-11 overall and 7-3 in the OCC-Capital last season.
Rhea, a Morehead State recruit, led the Eagles in batting average (.464), hits (32) and RBI (30) and tied Halliday for second in home runs with six, behind Tibbitts' eight.
Halliday batted .413 with 26 hits and 22 RBI, Tibbitts hit .353 with 24 hits and 20 RBI and Galbraith batted .354 with 23 hits.
"Halle Galbraith is a tremendous asset with her versatility to play multiple positions, including being a primary catcher," Hall said. "We'll look forward to getting her in the lineup to add consistency and reliability behind the plate and offensively."
Angles also will see time in the circle when Rhea plays infield.
"Olivia has really worked hard at becoming a better pitcher," Hall said. "A great deal of our success will rely on the success of our pitchers hitting their spots and keeping the ball down."
Rounding out the roster are junior Aasjot Siani (C/INF/OF), sophomores Jenn Brewer (C/INF/OF), Mac Derflinger (OF/2B), Amelia Roberts (OF/3B) and Raegan Steele (OF) and freshmen Sophia Angles (INF/P), Jada Biller (OF), Evie Gravlin (OF), Reagan King (INF), Aurora Lescody (C/INF/OF), Marissa Payne (P/1B/2B), Abigail Phelps (1B/OF), Anna Ritter (OF/2B) and Macyn Swincicki (OF/2B).
New Albany begins OCC-Capital play Wednesday, April 10, at Newark. The Eagles and Wildcats tied for second in the league last year behind Groveport (9-1).
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 5 -- At Newark
April 6 -- Home vs. Mount Vernon and Vermilion
*April 8 -- Home vs. Newark
*April 10 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
April 5 -- Home vs. Springboro
*April 9 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 6 -- At Westerville South
*April 9 -- At Orange
April 4 -- At Grove City
April 5 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
April 6 -- Home vs. Newark Catholic (DH)
April 9 -- At Licking Heights
*April 10 -- At Newark
April 4 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
April 6 -- Home vs. Cincinnati Sycamore and Mason
*April 9 -- At Newark
TRACK & FIELD
April 5 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby
April 9 -- At Newark with Pickerington North
*April 4 -- At Gahanna
April 5 -- At Briggs
*April 8 -- At Pickerington North
*April 9 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central