Despite not returning any everyday, two-way starters from a year ago, the Hilliard Darby High School baseball team has proven a point in the first half of the regular season.
The Panthers were 10-4 overall and 5-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division after losing to Dublin Scioto 4-2 on April 22 and before playing Dublin Jerome on April 24.
"I'm not surprised," first-year coach Mike Weer said. "I knew we had a number of good baseball players that just lacked varsity experience. Our spring (break) trip, in which we played and lost very close games to two of the best teams in Tennessee, convinced our players that if we play Darby baseball we will give ourselves a chance to be in every game.
"We are playing the simple game very well right now. Our pitchers are throwing strikes, defensively we are making the routine plays and offensively we are putting the ball in play."
The Panthers went 2-2 on their spring break trip, losing to Lebanon (Tennessee) Friendship Christian 5-4 and Collierville (Tennessee) 6-4 on March 29.
Darby is seeking its fifth consecutive league championship after going 9-3 in the OCC-Cardinal last season. The Panthers finished 21-8 overall last spring after reaching a Division I district final for the fourth year in a row.
Seniors Mason Bowers (LF), Drew Snyder (2B) and Grant Hollinger (DH) earned starts last season.
"Mason was a part-time starter last year who struggled in the middle of the season before returning as a starter late in the season, and Drew played second base but rarely batted," Weer said. "Grant was one of our DHs for Drew."
Entering this week, Bowers had a team-high .458 batting average and was 7-for-8 in stolen base attempts and Snyder was hitting .364 with 12 runs scored, had a .979 fielding percentage and had helped turn six double plays.
Bowers unknowingly had been playing with a broken and displaced rib. He suffered the injury during the spring break trip.
"I got hit by a pitch in the same spot twice in the same game and then I also ran into the outfield wall going after a ball," Bowers said. "I played with that from March 29 until I finally had so much pain I decided to get X-rays on April 10. I haven't played since then, but I'm hoping to return sometime (this week)."
Bowers has used his down time to help his younger teammates.
"I can't lead by example right now, but I have had a lot more time to talk with my teammates when I'm on the bench," he said. "We've got two incredible sophomores (shortstop Paxton Schwandt and pitcher/outfielder Andrew Patrick) and I've tried to get in their ears and let them know what to expect."
Through 13 games, Patrick was batting .432 with 12 runs and a team-best 15 RBI and was 11-for-12 in stolen base attempts. He also was 3-0 on the mound with a 1.45 ERA in 19 1/3 innings, while Schwandt was batting .400 with a team-best 13 runs.
"Those guys are going to be studs," Snyder said. "Andrew has already committed to Wright State and Paxton will definitely play in college somewhere, too. That's the funny thing about our team. We've got nine seniors on the roster who love to play baseball, but none of us plan to play in college at any level. That's rare here at Darby.
"What I like about our defense is that every infielder except (catcher Ryan Eatherton) has played shortstop, so we have great communication and leadership from Kyle Miller at third base to Nick (Skelskey) at first base."
Miller was batting .425 with 10 RBI.
On the mound, Jacob Wells was 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA in 13 1/3 innings, Seth Schmidt was 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA in 22 innings and Connor Maruniak was 2-1 with a 1.31 ERA in 10 2/3 innings. The top relievers have been Skelskey (2 saves, 0.00 ERA in 6 innings) and Scott Bugg (1 save, 3.15 ERA in 6 2/3 innings).
"We are just trying to get a little better each game," Weer said. "Right now, we are trending in the right direction and making fewer mistakes each game out. We know that we can still play better.
"Everyone has stepped up when their number has been called. It's been a lot of fun seeing different players get key hits or make key defensive plays. It has been a total team effort so far."
Injuries taking toll on softball team
Injuries effectively have derailed the softball team's hopes of contending for the OCC-Cardinal championship.
Darby was 9-11 overall and 6-4 in the OCC-Cardinal after beating Scioto 11-7 on April 22 and before playing Jerome on April 24. Last season, the Panthers went 9-3 in the league to finish third behind co-champions Bradley and Delaware (both 10-2).
"We've lost our top two pitchers and our second-best hitter to injuries this season," coach Shawn Papp said. "That's a tough combination, even when you have the best player in our league (senior shortstop Tegan Cortelletti)."
Senior pitcher Maddi Clark threw only 12 innings after returning from the team's spring break trip to Cocoa Beach, Florida, in late March before a triceps injury cost her the rest of the season. Sophomore pitcher Jordyn Anderson pitched nine innings before suffering a shoulder injury, but has been able to bat and hopes to work her way back into the circle later this season.
Senior center fielder Molly Holdren, a third-year starter, was lost for the remainder of the season after breaking her right wrist during a 15-3 loss to Westerville North on April 5. In 10 games, she batted .500 with nine runs and 13 RBI.
Cortelletti, an Ohio State signee who was named first-team all-state last season, was hitting .662 with 28 runs, 19 RBI, eight triples, six doubles, one home run and seven stolen bases entering this week. She was batting .740 in league games.
"She set the school record for career RBI with 77 earlier this year and had already set program records for hits, runs and stolen bases," Papp said. "She's well on her way to hitting over .600 for the third straight year, so she should also wind up with career records in batting average and on-base percentage, too."
Through 19 games, senior catcher Sydney McCreary was batting .393, junior second baseman Lily Garnett-Brown was hitting .381 with two home runs and Anderson was hitting .339.
Clark's sister, sophomore Taylor Clark, has filled in at pitcher.
"She's a workhorse and has pitched 65 innings," Papp said of Taylor. "No matter how things go, she doesn't bat an eye. She's doing as well as she can being thrown into the situation. She's just trying to throw strikes and let the defense make plays behind her."
Girls lacrosse team posts first league win
The girls lacrosse team entered this week on a bit of a roll, having gone 3-1-1 in its previous five contests.
The Panthers were 6-3-1 overall and 1-3 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Jerome on April 23.
Darby defeated Delaware 19-12 on April 11 for its first league win and then played a pair of games in the Hannigan-Galipault Tournament on April 13 at Thomas Worthington, beating Shaker Heights Laurel 11-7 and tying Shadyside at 12.
Then, after losing to Olentangy Berlin 13-12 in a league game April 16, the Panthers beat Gahanna 15-12 on April 18.
Against Berlin, Kelsey Binion had three goals and Carli Rigel, Haylee Handrahan and Carley House each scored two.
Athletes announce college decisions
Seventeen student-athletes recently announced their college announcements.
Emily Betteridge will compete in women's bowling at Muskingum, Aaliyah Brletic will play women's soccer at Capital, Chris Burkart will compete in men's track and field for California Polytechnic State, William Cantwell will play football at Urbana, Nicholas Carter will compete in men's bowling at Wright State, Michael Cornathan will compete in men's track and field at Walsh, Kris Day will play football at Ohio Dominican, Grant Hollinger will play football at Wittenberg, Kelsie Huss will play women's tennis at Principia, Dominic Iosue will play men's lacrosse at Ohio Northern, Jackson Janetski will play men's soccer at Heidelberg, Sydney McCreary will play softball at Capital, Aaron Muldrow will play men's soccer at Ohio Dominican, Stacia Rispress will compete in women's track and field at Davenport, Cassidy Webber will play women's soccer at Wittenberg, Nick Wile will play men's lacrosse at Otterbein and Allison Williams will play women's soccer at Ohio Wesleyan.
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
April 25 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman
*April 26 -- At Dublin Jerome
April 27 -- Home vs. St. Charles
*April 29 -- At Olentangy Berlin
*May 1 -- Home vs. Berlin
*April 25 -- At Thomas Worthington
*April 30 -- Home vs. Bradley
*April 25 -- Home vs. Thomas
*April 29 -- At Bradley
May 1 -- At Bexley
*April 25 -- Home vs. Berlin. The Panthers lost to the Bears 11-0 on April 10.
*April 29 -- At Thomas. The Panthers beat the Cardinals 12-2 on April 11.
*May 1 -- Home vs. Bradley. The Panthers lost to the Jaguars 14-7 on April 15.
April 29 -- Home vs. Jonathan Alder
May 1 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
TRACK & FIELD
April 25 -- Wildcat Premier at Davidson
April 26 -- Olentangy Invitational
April 30 -- At Bradley with Davidson
*April 25 -- At Jerome. The Panthers beat the Celtics 25-16, 25-12, 25-13 on April 8.
*April 27 -- Elite Eight Tournament at Centerville
April 30 -- Home vs. Berlin. The Panthers beat the Bears 25-11, 25-12, 25-10 on April 9.