The Olentangy Liberty High School baseball team is guarding against looking ahead perhaps more than ever this spring.
Coming off their first Division I state championship, the Patriots return the winning pitcher and six others who saw action in their 8-1 victory over Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in the title game.
While Liberty was a "fun team to coach" last spring, according to Ty Brenning, he and his players are making a conscious effort not to dwell on their 30-4 finish.
"I don't see any outward signs of change in what we're doing," said Brenning, who is in his eighth season. "It's funny because we've just gone back to normal and do what we do every year. It's that routine and preparation that are important. You've got to go back to the weight room, go back to the cage. It really hasn't changed anything we do."
Liberty was 4-0 before playing Worthington Kilbourne on April 2. It defeated Wheaton (Illinois) North 10-6 and Toledo St. John's 5-1 on March 25, Sussex (Wisconsin) Hamilton 6-2 on March 27 and Anthony Wayne 10-2 on March 28 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The Patriots open OCC-Buckeye Division action Friday, April 5, at home against Orange. They won the league title last year at 14-1.
Mitchell Okuley, who started in right field last season when he batted .362 with 24 RBI and was first-team all-district, is an Ohio State recruit who also is seeing time at catcher and pitcher.
Junior A.J. Rausch, who has committed to Ohio University, will play in center field, with senior Corbin Parrish in right field and senior Ben Wenner and junior Brennan Rowe in left field. Those players also are options at designated hitter.
Senior Justin Nelson returns at first base after hitting .360 with 30 RBI, and senior Craig Lutwen has returned at shortstop after scoring 28 runs.
Senior Michael Atkinson is at second base and senior Andrew Rodriguez is playing third base.
Sophomore Brian Yamokoski is another catcher, and Atkinson, Nelson and senior John Saliba also are options at that position.
Senior Jack Metzger, who gave up just three hits and one unearned run in the state title game to finish 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA, should lead the pitching staff.
Rowe was the winning pitcher in Liberty's 5-4 win over Marysville in a district final. He went 4-1 with a 1.63 ERA last season.
Atkins, Wenner, seniors Brandon Hoffman and Drew Lane and junior Ben Billings are other key pitchers.
Junior Nick Lipovsek (INF/P), sophomores Jackson Cromwell (P/OF), Dom Magistrale (OF), Landon Smith (1B/OF) and Michael Tuttle (SS/2B) and freshman Nolan Fogg (1B/OF) also should contribute.
"What gives our kids confidence is that they try to outwork themselves and try to be better than they were yesterday," Brenning said. "I don't feel like our expectations have changed much. The key is breaking down the game into small parts and executing."
Goals increase for softball team
There are eight returning players on the softball team, including its top two pitchers and most of its infield.
The Patriots went 3-2 during their trip to Orlando, Florida, and then beat Dublin Coffman 13-2 on April 1 before playing Central Crossing on April 3.
Liberty, which opens OCC-Buckeye action Wednesday, April 10, at home against Orange, went 10-13 last year and had its season end in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
"We've got eight returnees from varsity, and we had a big group of freshmen that came in, so it's not been too bad," second-year coach Cari DeAngelis said. "We're pretty excited. I know the girls want to win the OCC. We were right there last year and fell short at the very end. We also want to hopefully make it farther (in the postseason)."
Seniors Lindsay Aninao (C/3B), Arica Flaugher (C/OF), Sammy Leonhardt (SS/3B), Lauren Pomorski (2B) and Katelyn Wilhelm (P), juniors Lexi Byrd (1B) and Kaitlyn Leary (P/3B) and sophomore Dani Schoenly (OF) are the returnees.
Flaugher led the Patriots in home runs (9), RBI (26) and batting average (.443) and also scored 19 runs. Schoenly hit .380 with seven home runs and 22 runs, Leonhardt batted .297 with 16 runs and Aninao hit .279 with 10 RBI.
Leary, who also can play first base, went 6-10 with a 3.38 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings. Wilhelm was 4-3 with a 1.68 ERA and two saves with 90 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings.
"With Wilhelm and Leary, we kind of consider them both No. 1s," DeAngelis said. "They both kind of have the ability."
Rounding out the senior class is outfielder Anna Moreau. Others looking to contribute include juniors Carrie Scherer (OF) and Jordan Scheiderer (OF) and freshmen Ashley Chevalier (SS/3B/C), Lindsey Leeds (P/designated player), Lindsay McPhail (utility), Lauren Shirilla (utility) and Morgan Williamson (utility).
Volleyball team seeks another tourney run
Despite having a mostly new lineup last season, the boys volleyball team won four more matches than it did in 2017 and was a Division I East Region runner-up.
The Patriots return seven letterwinners, although two of those players, senior middle hitter Llwyatt Hofer and sophomore middle hitter Cole Young, joined the program late because they also played for the boys basketball team, which made it to a state semifinal.
"We're hoping to of course build on (last year's record) and keep improving," 15th-year coach Dave Hale said. "It's been an interesting season so far. I honestly haven't had a chance to see where we're at, but we've done fairly well. I think we can do some good things this year. It's an excellent group of guys."
Hofer, who was second-team all-OCC-Buckeye last season as the Patriots were runners-up (8-2) behind Olentangy (10-0), is 6-foot-4 and Young is 6-7.
Junior outside hitter Nick Irelan and senior outside hitter Rithvik Potluri, who were first-team all-league and special mention all-league, respectively, are other key players.
Junior Sean McCabe returns at setter after making second-team all-league. He also was honorable mention all-region while Irelan was second-team all-region.
Junior Jacob Myers is taking over the libero role full time after the Patriots lost Shiva Dubbaka, an honorable mention all-league honoree who was one of four seniors last season.
Also returning is sophomore right-side hitter Tyus Thompson.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Hayden Bowlin (right-side hitter), Grady Clausing (middle hitter) and Dean Roiland (setter) and juniors Chase Moran (right-side hitter/middle hitter) and Nathan Northup (outside hitter). Moran has returned after not playing last spring.
Juniors Michael Lucas, Ian McCabe and Justin Sachtleben are defensive specialists who will split time between junior varsity and varsity.
Liberty opens Thursday, April 4, at home against Orange in a league match.
"We've got some guys back, and a lot of those guys got experience last year," said Hale, whose team finished 14-7 overall. "They're a group of guys that take coaching well and are always trying to help each other do well. They're a fun group to coach."
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
April 4 -- Home vs. Fredericktown
*April 5 -- Home vs. Orange
April 6 -- Home vs. Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit
*April 8 -- At Orange
*April 10 -- At Westerville South
*April 9 -- At Big Walnut
April 4 -- Home vs. Granville
*April 8 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
April 4 -- Home vs. Whetstone
April 5 -- At Pickerington North
April 8 -- Home vs. Marysville
*April 10 -- Home vs. Orange
*April 9 -- Home vs. Orange
April 10 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
TRACK & FIELD
April 5 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby
April 9 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
*April 4 -- Home vs. Orange
April 9 -- At Watterson