Members of the Pickerington High School North baseball team are saying "chemistry" in unison when they break the postgame huddle this season.
Some Panthers are not sure who suggested that, but with the roster being comprised of seven seniors and six juniors, they hope camaraderie will be a given as they try to continue their ascent back from an eight-win season two years ago and aim for their first Division I district championship since winning the state title in 2016.
"We're all on the same page. 'Chemistry' is one of our favorite things to say," senior pitcher Brock Vinci said. "I don't know who came up with saying that after games, but it just kind of happened in Myrtle (Beach, South Carolina)."
That is where the Panthers began the season March 23, losing to Fairless Hills (Pennsylvania) Pennsbury 9-2 at The Ripken Experience before defeating Clairton (Pennsylvania) Thomas Jefferson 9-7 later in the day. Vinci had a strong six-inning outing in North's home opener, a 4-3 win over Upper Arlington on March 27, and the Panthers were 3-1 before playing Briggs on April 2.
Seniors Cam Jenkins (OF), Alec Mendoza (INF/P) and Drew Salinas (INF/P/C) also will be among the leaders for the Panthers, who went 16-11 overall and 8-6 in the OCC-Ohio Division last year.
Jenkins, Mendoza and Salinas will play at Urbana, Notre Dame College and Tiffin, respectively.
"We have kids who have been in our program for four years. Drew has been here for four years and we have a bunch of three-year guys," 14th-year coach Tim Thomas said. "They've heard the crazy things that have come out of my mouth for three or four years. I know their reactions. It's a comfort level and a nice thing to have. It doesn't guarantee wins, but it does mean we're going to enjoy our season."
Thomas is particularly excited about a pitching staff that is led by Vinci and also includes senior Alex Glanzman and juniors Jarett Barnes, Jacob Chadwick and Zach Pressnell.
Vinci was 4-1 with a 1.00 ERA, 17 walks and 31 strikeouts in 42 innings last season on a staff anchored by 2018 graduate Mitchell Smith, who went 3-2 with a 1.60 ERA, 16 walks and 53 strikeouts in 48 innings and now plays at Ohio State.
Smith also led the Panthers in batting average (.345), hits (29), home runs (3) and RBI (14).
Senior Luke Wilcox (C/OF), who had a two-run double to break a scoreless deadlock against UA, hopes to make up for some of that offensive production.
"I feel like I am prepared to take that role this year. I've taken a lot of hitting lessons, been in the cage a lot and gotten a lot of tee work to get a consistent swing," Wilcox said.
Barnes hit a walk-off home run March 28, the first of his varsity career, to give North a 5-4 win over visiting Teays Valley.
Rounding out the roster are senior Gage Losoncy (OF) and juniors Nick Cline (INF), Parker Hall (OF) and Dom Myers (INF).
North begins OCC-Ohio play Friday, April 5, at home against Pickerington Central. The Panthers tied Grove City for second in the league last year behind Central and Lancaster (both 10-5).
"Expectations are always the same here. Win the league, win the district, win 20 games and see what happens," Thomas said. "That will never change no matter who coaches baseball here. We just have an older group. Postgame talks are shorter, our practice talks are shorter because they've heard it. They know what to expect."
Seniors to lead boys volleyball team
With eight seniors back from a team that played its best at the end of last season, 16th-year boys volleyball coach Marci Truex is confident that she has a solid core to build around.
Senior Bradley Johnson, who had a team-best 152 kills as well as 324 assists last year, moves from setter to outside hitter as North tries to improve on records of 14-12 overall and 6-6 in the OCC-Ohio.
Other returnees include seniors Seth Burton (setter/opposite-side hitter), Danny Corrigan (middle hitter) and Isaac Lambert (setter/opposite-side hitter).
"We're solid at every position and I'm thrilled," Truex said. "Can we be outstanding in spots? Yes. But we don't have a big gap between skill levels like we've had a few times with guys who are super-great and then a drop off. We don't have that learning gap we've had.
"We're at the tweaking phase. We're trying to find out what's the best rotation, who works best with whom. In that aspect, yes, we're ahead of where we were last year (at this time). In the delivery or the execution of skills, we are hit-or-miss in a couple spots."
North opened March 28 with a 25-22, 25-21, 25-16 league win at UA.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Demetrius Davis (middle hitter), Ben Mason (defensive specialist) and Jason Miller (libero), juniors Josh Debolt (outside hitter), Charlie Huland (outside hitter), Jakob Jaehn (middle hitter) and Parker Maddox (opposite-side hitter) and sophomore Jackson Nutter (outside hitter).
North continued league play April 2 in its home opener against Gahanna. Partly thanks to a six-match winning streak late in the season, including the final five matches of the regular season, the Panthers tied Dublin Coffman and UA for third in the OCC-Ohio last year behind champion Hilliard Davidson (10-2).
"That streak was great to see. We'd taken some hits. They came together on the court and took it to people," Truex said. "If we can work together to not defeat ourselves and play with our roles and our capabilities, we'll be good."
Softball team seeks to build on achievements
The softball team returns six starters, only one of whom is a senior, as it tries to improve on last year's 12-12 record and reach at least a Division I district semifinal for the third consecutive season.
Senior Gina Carlini (1B/P) leads a group of returning starters that also includes juniors Carley Auten (SS), Mackenzie Blazek (OF), Emma Dean (OF), Megan Ebbrecht (3B/C) and Morgan Ebbrecht (P/1B). Blazek was injured to start the season.
North was 2-1 before playing Westerville North on April 3.
"We have athletes that are team-focused and are willing to work with and for each other. This group wants to learn and get better every day," eighth-year coach Sarah Looker said. "What we did in the last half of the 2018 season (winning four of five games before losing in a district semifinal) is a great steppingstone going into this season. We have a tough OCC (-Ohio) schedule ahead of us and our six returning starters will carry us through those games."
The Panthers opened March 26 with a 7-4 home win over Bloom-Carroll and fell to visiting Groveport 8-7 in nine innings the next day. Auten hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning of the opener.
North also defeated New Albany 11-8 on April 1.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Kaylee Cavendish (OF), Keely Harra (1B/C), Roxianne Herdman (OF/3B) and Haley Pusecker (C), sophomores Khloe Bolin (OF/3B) and Anna Glanzman (2B) and freshmen Tabitha Bailey (2B), Katie Nash (DH/1B) and Kaitlyn Strawn (OF).
"Haley, Kaylee and Roxianne had some playing time in the 2018 season and will take on significant roles this season," Looker said.
North begins OCC-Ohio play Wednesday, April 10, at home against Central. The Panthers went 1-9 in the league last year.
Below are the coming schedules for the North baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 5 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
*April 8 -- At Pickerington Central
*April 10 -- At Gahanna
*April 4 -- Home vs. Gahanna
April 6 -- At Centerville
*April 9 -- At Newark
*April 4 -- At Gahanna
April 8 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
April 5 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
April 6 -- At Hilliard Darby with Hilliard Davidson
*April 10 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
April 4 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
*April 9 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
April 10 -- Home vs. Columbus Academy
TRACK & FIELD
April 6 -- Stingel Invitational at home
April 9 -- At Newark with New Albany
*April 4 -- At Reynoldsburg
*April 8 -- Home vs. New Albany
*April 9 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson