The Hilliard Davidson High School baseball team is aiming for its third consecutive OCC-Central Division title.
Sixth-year coach Justin Swallie and his players, however, realize that goal will be a challenge.
"We tell the guys all the time, it's great that they have won back-to-back OCC championships, but that target keeps getting bigger and bigger every year, and it doesn't get any easier in our league," Swallie said.
Last season, Davidson finished 18-7 overall and won its 20th league title, going 13-2 in the OCC-Central to finish three games ahead of runner-up Upper Arlington (10-5).
The Wildcats also are hoping to contend for their first Division I district title since 2009. Last year as the fourth seed, they lost 9-7 to 17th-seeded Dublin Jerome in the second round of the district tournament.
"Last year was pretty disappointing and our guys are hungry to turn that around," Swallie said. "We don't want that early out. They want to make a name for Davidson baseball. We talk about leaving a legacy and they want to leave that legacy that they're the team that got it turned around in the tournament."
Davidson opened March 23 with a 7-4 loss at Bradley before going 1-2 on a spring-break trip to Kentucky. The Wildcats lost to Bowling Green (Kentucky) South Warren 14-13 on March 25 and Bowling Green 8-0 on March 26 before rebounding to defeat Franklin (Kentucky) Simpson 4-3 on March 27.
"We played some great competition and got some good playing experience," Swallie said. "We're still learning and getting better."
The Wildcats were 1-3 before playing Darby on April 2 and open league play Friday, April 5, at Dublin Coffman.
Among the key returnees is senior Christian Sweet (C/INF), who hit .353 with 14 RBI and was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district last season.
"Our team chemistry is really good so far," Sweet said. "We have a lot of close, tight-knit guys. We hang out a lot outside of baseball as well, doing little breakfasts. Our team chemistry is great."
Other returnees include junior Nick Dymek (SS/P), who was 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA, 27 strikeouts and six walks in 38 innings last season, and senior Austin Conrad (P), who was 4-3 with a 3.37 ERA, 21 strikeouts and 12 walks in 33 1/3 innings.
Both were second-team all-league.
Also back are seniors Grant Cowan (OF), Nathan Deweese (C/INF), David May (OF), Chase Miles (3B), Joey Sheets (P), Jack Vellky (OF) and Drew Yoder (1B) and junior Dylan Bunyak (C/1B).
"Our goal is to not only get a third (consecutive league title), but the end goal is to go deep in the (postseason) tournament and that's what we're focusing on this year as the main focus," Deweese said.
Also on the team are seniors Clay Chilenski (INF/P), Brady Ingland (P) and Sean Tincher (P), juniors Seth Altman (OF/P), Cameron Curry (1B), Noah Johnson (INF/P), Ryan Mayr (OF), Alex Painter (OF), Nick Sands (P/3B) and Jackson Sowers (P/INF) and sophomores Kyle Pepera (P/INF) and Luke Potter (P/3B).
"We feel like we have a lot of depth this year," Swallie said. "We're just trying to figure out where guys are going. We might have some guys jump from j.v. to varsity. This is the most depth we've had in the past couple of years. Pitching-wise, we feel a lot more comfortable with the guys we have coming out of the bullpen."
Softball team again has young nucleus
The softball team again will feature a young nucleus, as it has no seniors.
The Wildcats went 20-5 in 2017 but finished just 5-19 last season with only three seniors on their roster.
"We knew that would be the case," seventh-year coach Katie Speakman said of having no seniors this season. "It's a drop-off year and we have a lot of kids that are returners and it's crazy enough to say that a lot of these sophomores are returners and a handful of juniors are as well. We're going to have them together not only from last year, but for this year and next year, which is outstanding."
Davidson was 1-1 before playing DeSales on April 2 and opens OCC-Central play Wednesday, April 10, at Coffman. The Wildcats went 2-8 in the league last year.
"Every team is competitive in the OCC, so the reality is it's the teams with good pitching and it comes down to execution on offense and making the routine plays on defense," Speakman said. "The No. 1 goal is always to compete and be at the top of the OCC."
Davidson opened March 28 with a 7-1 loss to visiting Ready before bouncing back to defeat host Licking Valley 16-5 in six innings March 30.
Among the key returnees are juniors Abby Mullins (C) and Natalie Myers (3B) and sophomore CiCi Keidel (SS).
Last season, Keidel hit .380 with 27 runs scored and 12 RBI and was second-team all-league, Mullins batted .299 and was honorable mention all-league and Myers scored 12 runs and had 10 RBI and was special mention all-league.
Also back are juniors Addison DeJesus (P/OF) and Kayla Michael (P) and sophomores Kami Graham (INF), Marissa Korbini (OF) and Lauren Runals (P/INF).
"(The team's youth is) not really a concern this year because we've all grown a lot closer over the years because we're all close," Michael said. "We've had a lot of team-bonding events where we've gotten to know each other a lot more."
Also on the team are juniors Bella Harless (OF), Bella Rolon (utility) and Maggie Rupert (INF) and sophomore Carlie Champion (OF).
Speakman said DeJesus, Michael and Runals will split time in the circle.
"It keeps people on their toes to a point offensively," Speakman said. "We're going to use all three of them and depending on the day and what it looks like, one will start, one will be in the field and one will be hitting. We'll use all three of them."
Below are the coming schedules for the Davidson baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 5 -- At Dublin Coffman
*April 8 -- Home vs. Coffman
*April 10 -- At Upper Arlington
*April 4 -- Home vs. Coffman
*April 5 -- Home vs. Newark
*April 9 -- At Gahanna
*April 4 -- At Coffman
April 6 -- Home vs. Darby and Toledo St. Ursula Academy
*April 8 -- Home vs. Gahanna
April 4 -- At Canal Winchester
April 5 -- Home vs. Bradley
April 6 -- At Darby with Pickerington North
April 9 -- Home vs. Westerville South
*April 10 -- At Coffman
April 4 -- At Olentangy
April 8 -- Home vs. Darby
*April 9 -- At Coffman
April 10 -- Home vs. Logan Elm
TRACK & FIELD
April 5 -- Panther Invitational at Darby
April 9 -- Home vs. Central Crossing and Worthington Kilbourne
*April 4 -- At Pickerington Central
April 6 -- At Beavercreek with Cincinnati Elder
*April 9 -- At Pickerington North