Westerville South High School softball coach Emily Swank-Kavanaugh entered her second season optimistic that her team would improve on its 8-18 overall record from a year ago.
The Wildcats return five players who lettered last season and have added a solid group of underclassmen, boosting Swank-Kavanaugh's confidence.
"The transition has been smoother than I expected," said Swank-Kavanaugh, who replaced longtime coach Jerry Kelbley. "Last year was a lot of the bumpy road, but this year they're in on it. Now it's just a matter of when we have two seniors and one junior and we're really relying on the freshman class. There are training wheels on them."
Kelbley retired after guiding the program for 36 years.
The Wildcats opened by defeating host Bexley 11-1 in five innings March 27 and losing at Dublin Scioto 10-2 on March 28.
Senior Meghan Bame (3B/P) went the distance in the circle against Bexley, allowing one hit while striking out five and walking one.
Freshman Tori Moore (SS/OF) tripled, doubled and singled, while senior Jewelia Smith (OF/2B) also had three hits.
South took a 2-0 lead against Scioto in the first inning before the Irish rallied, highlighted by a seven-run fourth.
The teams meet again Friday, April 5, at South.
The Wildcats were 1-1 before playing Thomas Worthington on April 2. They open OCC-Buckeye Division play Wednesday, April 10, at Olentangy.
Bame, who batted .338 and was special mention all-league last season, is expected to split time at pitcher with sophomore returnee Megan Shoemaker (P/SS).
"We're still a little young, but expectations are all the same," Bame said. "We know what we have to do."
Shoemaker went the first three innings against Scioto, with Bame pitching the final three.
"We have total faith in Megan Shoemaker," Swank-Kavanaugh said. "She's also a very good infielder and Meghan Bame has proven that she can do the job. There are places where we need a little bit of senior leadership in the circle, maybe we go with (Bame), but we're going to be growing Megan Shoemaker and investing in her as a ballplayer, too."
Smith, junior Katie Forrest (2B/3B) and sophomore Trinity Cole (utility) are the other returning letterwinners.
"Jewelia and I have taken more of a leadership role, (along with) our junior, Katie Forest," Bame said. "We're definitely the mothers of the team."
Other players are sophomores Madie Faulkner (1B), Audrey Jones (1B), Maggie Musilli (1B/OF), Kyla Nickerson (C/OF) and Lindy Roth (OF) and freshmen Jada Orr (utility), Allison Porta (C), Maggie Price (OF) and Kayti Williams (C/INF).
"We're super young," Swank-Kavanaugh said. "We have two seniors. We have freshmen who are trying to learn the game at this elite level. There are going to be some growing pains and that's OK."
Last season, the Wildcats went 3-7 in the OCC-Buckeye to tie Westerville North and Olentangy Orange for fourth behind champion Olentangy (8-2).
"(Olentangy) Liberty is going to be really good this year," Swank-Kavanaugh said. "Olentangy lost a lot of kids to (Olentangy) Berlin. We want to stay competitive with North and (Westerville) Central. We want to rule the 'Ville. Regardless of the record, those are days when you walk in and anything can happen."
Baseball team wins two games in Florida
The baseball team opened the season with a pair of wins in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
The Wildcats defeated Pikeville (Kentucky) 9-4 on March 26 and 1-0 on March 28. They open OCC-Buckeye play Friday, April 5, at Olentangy.
South returns five starters, including senior Michael Dailey (INF/C/P), who was the winning pitcher in the first game against Pikeville.
Last season, Dailey batted a team-best .383 with 17 runs and 16 RBI and was honorable mention all-league.
Another returning starter is junior Jake Llaneza (INF/P), who hit .324 and scored 17 runs last season.
Seniors Seth Chrisman (INF/P) and Jack Lovell (OF) and sophomore Brayden White (C/P) are the other full-time returning starters. White earned the win in the second game against Pikeville.
"We have three senior returning starters. That's a good thing," said coach Tim Bates, who is in his 16th season. "The bad thing is there are only three of them. You'd like to have nine 18-year-olds starting for you."
Also back are juniors Aiden Braxton (OF) and Keyton Kowalski (OF/P) and sophomore Matthew Bame (OF/P).
"We have eight letterwinners that are returning and every one of them started games last year," Bates said.
Other players are junior Alex Couch (INF) and sophomores Andrew Collinsworth (INF/P), Logan Hunn (INF/P), Brandon Kim (3B/P), Nick McConnell (INF/P), Ryan Phillips (OF/C) and Santo Scillia (INF).
Couch missed last season with an arm injury.
"We're six-deep in (starting) pitching and many of them are sophomores," Bates said.
Dailey, Llaneza, Bame, White, Hunn and Kim should be the top pitchers, according to Bates, who said Chrisman also should contribute on the mound.
"You can never have too much pitching," Bates said. "That's the name of the game. It doesn't matter if it's 12-year-old little league or Major League Baseball. The team that has the pitchers, they're going to win."
Last season, South went 3-12 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish sixth behind champion Liberty (14-1), which went on to win its first Division I state title.
"Liberty is just as good this year as they were last year," Bates said. "We didn't have the depth last year. We had some real good starters, but we didn't have the depth. This year we have the depth that we can handle our schedule. We have a lot more competition for positions."
A key loss to graduation was Jaelen Gill, who was named first-team all-league and all-district last season after hitting .346 with a team-high 21 runs. Gill is playing football at Ohio State.
Below are the coming schedules for the South baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis and track & field teams:
*April 5 -- At Olentangy
April 6 -- Home vs. Mentor Lake Catholic (DH)
*April 8 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*April 10 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
*April 4 -- At Olentangy
April 6 -- At Johnstown
*April 4 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*April 6 -- Home vs. New Albany
*April 9 -- At Westerville North
April 5 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
April 6 -- At Pickerington Central with Central Crossing
April 9 -- At Hilliard Davidson
*April 10 -- At Olentangy
April 4 -- At Upper Arlington
*April 9 -- At Olentangy
TRACK & FIELD
April 5 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby
April 9 -- Home vs. Centennial, DeSales, Marysville and Oakstone Academy