The Westerville Central High School baseball team is looking to build on a successful spring-break trip as it tries to bounce back from a disappointing 2018 season.
The Warhawks went 5-1 during their trip to Cocoa Beach, Florida.
"We had a great week," 11th-year coach Jeff Keifer said. "We grew together as a team and we realized what we need to do to be successful. We had solid pitching and timely hitting with contributions from nearly every player."
Central finished 13-15 overall last season and went 6-9 in the OCC-Buckeye Division to place fourth behind eventual Division I state champion Olentangy Liberty (14-1).
The Warhawks open league play Friday, April 5, against visiting Westerville North.
Central returns nine players led by senior Camron Hubble (C/P/INF), who hit .364 with 15 RBI last season and was first-team all-district and all-league.
Also back is senior Niko George (P/INF/OF), who had 15 RBI and was honorable mention all-league.
Senior returnee Jake Yaussy (3B/P) is optimistic his team will rebound.
"The chemistry is really good and everybody has been working really hard," Yaussy said. "I think we can put together a good run this year. We're expected to do well every year and we just have to keep that going, compete for an OCC title (and a) district title. We need to do a lot better than last year."
Other returnees are seniors Brett Dahman (C/INF/P), Zach Glorioso (OF/C) and Nate Lawrence (OF/P) and juniors Jace Jarvis (OF/P), Josh Laffey (P/INF) and Andrew Nussbaum (P/INF).
Laffey, who is expected to be one of the team's top pitchers, will miss part of the season with an injury to his right pitching shoulder.
Other players are juniors Matt Boller (INF/P), Brice Butler (OF/P), Griffin Das (INF), Christian Define (P/INF), Michael Hause (OF/P), Wesley Minke (INF), Ryan Raybould (INF/P) and Brandon Ruman (OF/P) and sophomores Corbin Caplan (INF/P), Justin Fleetwood (C), Joey Ohl (P/INF) and Tyler Sackett (P/INF).
"It's baseball, it's so weird, it's so hard to tell," Keifer said of his team's potential. "We're definitely a little on the young side. We have six seniors and some of the guys shining a little bit in scrimmages have been juniors and sophomores."
A key loss to graduation was Dax Mickley, who hit .387 with a team-high 18 RBI last season and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Central is looking to return to an elite level. It reached the Division I state title game in 2015, losing to Cincinnati Moeller 16-0 in five innings.
The Warhawks also were district champions in 2011 and OCC champions in 2014 and 2015.
"We try to keep things simple," Keifer said. "We try to control what we can control and so far that's been great. Our effort has been unquestioned. We probably worked as hard in the offseason as any year I've been here. The guys are hungry. We just have to find the right combinations on the mound and in the batting order."
Softball team looks to continue success
Despite losing a key pitcher to injury, softball coach Brian Wamsley is confident the Warhawks will remain among the area's elite teams.
Central is looking to at least match the best season in program history. It won its first district title a year ago, defeating Pickerington Central 2-0 before losing to Teays Valley 8-4 in a Division I regional semifinal to finish 18-10 overall.
The Warhawks were 6-0 before playing Teays Valley on April 2. They open OCC-Buckeye play Wednesday, April 10, against visiting North.
"I like this team," said Wamsley, who is in his 10th season. "On paper, they should be the best team I've ever had, but that's on paper, so we'll see what happens on the field."
The Warhawks will be without senior pitcher Sydney Stepp, who is expected to miss most of the season with a torn bicep in her right pitching arm.
Stepp, who missed part of last season with a bone bruise on her right elbow, was 8-7 with a 2.36 ERA, 101 strikeouts and 34 walks in 95 innings. She was second-team all-league.
Wamsley said Stepp could return for the postseason. He's hoping the combination of junior returnee Rachel Fields and junior Emily Ruck, a transfer from Amanda-Clearcreek, will help offset the loss of Stepp.
Ruck, who has committed to Ohio State, was first-team all-MSL-Buckeye and second-team all-district in Division III last season.
"She throws every bit as hard as Sydney and maybe a little harder," Wamsley said. "It's been a blessing having Ruck. We have Rachel, too, and she was a workhorse last year for us and got us through that time when Sydney was out. Rachel and Emily are a good combination."
Central opened by going 6-0 in the Grand Strand Softball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
"We had a great week," Wamsley said. We went 6-0 against some good teams."
Ruck went 4-0 in the circle, striking out 52 of the 96 batters she faced while surrendering only seven hits.
Last season, Fields was 8-3 with a 3.74 ERA, 66 strikeouts and 35 walks in 82 1/3 innings.
The Warhawks hit .431 as a team in Myrtle Beach, led by junior Cami Compson (OF), who batted .632. Last season, she led the team in batting average (.522), home runs (10) and RBI (42) and was first-team all-district and all-league.
Also back is senior outfielder Avrey Schumacher, who last season batted .411 with a team-high nine doubles along with six home runs and 28 RBI. Schumacher, who will play at Youngstown State, was OCC-Buckeye Player of the Year and second-team all-district.
Sophomore Emily O'Dee (SS) hit .405 with a team-high 10 stolen bases and was first-team all-league.
Senior Kylie Collins (2B/C) hit .344 with 21 RBI and senior Lily Linke (3B/C) batted .306 with 13 RBI. Both were second-team all-league.
Junior Danielle Ingram (1B) hit .311 with 21 RBI and was honorable mention all-league.
Also back are senior Tiffany Zuelzke (OF) and sophomores Hanna Hunt (3B/2B) and Lexi Recinella (2B/OF).
Senior Rachel Kesling (OF) rounds out the team.
Stepp will play at Bowling Green, Linke will play at Defiance and Zuelzke will play at Capital.
"They were psyched for the season to begin," Wamsley said. "They were so psyched with the (postseason) run that we had and they certainly didn't want it to end. They couldn't wait for the new season to begin, so they're pumped and ready to go. We should be better."
Central went 7-3 in the OCC-Buckeye last season to finish second behind Olentangy (8-2).
Below are the coming schedules for the Central baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis and track & field:
*April 5 -- Home vs. Westerville North
*April 8 -- At North
*April 10 -- At Olentangy Orange
*April 4 -- At Orange
April 6 -- At Licking Valley
*April 9 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*April 4 -- Home vs. Orange
*April 9 -- At Olentangy
April 4 -- At DeSales
April 5 -- At New Albany
April 6 -- At Marysville with Hilliard Bradley
April 8 -- At Lancaster
*April 10 -- Home vs. Westerville South
April 4 -- Home vs. Gahanna
*April 9 -- Home vs. North
TRACK & FIELD
April 6 -- Red Edwards Golden Eagle Relays at Big Walnut
April 9 -- Home vs. Worthington Christian
*April 4 -- Home vs. North
*April 9 -- At Orange