Baseball: Westerville North Warriors catching up from lost 2020 season
Coach Sean Ring hopes roster versatility helps him get the most from his inexperienced Westerville North baseball team.
The Warriors return just three players with much varsity experience in seniors Brennan Albertini (SS/1B/3B/P), J.J. Dixon (C/2B/P) and Cole Merrell (OF/C/P).
Junior Trevor Newtz (SS/3B/P) played a few varsity games as a freshman in 2019 before last season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The team’s top returning pitcher, senior Ty O’Hearn, is out for the season with a torn labrum, and sophomore Brock Wright (INF/P) won’t play after suffering a knee injury.
“There is much we have to work on because we missed a year,” said Ring, who is in his 11th season. “My notes sheet was pretty full after we played our scrimmages. It’s the little things that we can take for granted that we have to go back over. The greatest challenge for our team is how will we be able to get them mentally prepared and up to speed to play varsity baseball.”
Despite losing O’Hearn, Ring is satisfied with the Warriors’ pitching depth. Albertini, Dixon and Merrell are joined by senior Kobe Hunter, Newtz, junior Rocco Thomas and sophomore Aiden Dickinson.
“Our staff is deep,” Ring said. “We might not have a hard-throwing, dominant No. 1 starter, but we definitely have some 1Bs or 2As. There’s not a big drop off for the six or seven guys throwing for us.”
Dixon and Merrell are catchers along with juniors Donovan Varney and Connor Warthman. Hunter and junior Zac Taylor will play first base along with Dixon, junior Wyatt Buxton and sophomore Braden Lewis.
Albertini and Newtz will mostly rotate at shortstop and third base, while the outfield will include Dickinson, Hunter, Merrell, junior James McCreery and sophomore Lance Preston.
“Our versatility is definitely a huge benefit,” Ring said. “Our ability to move the guys around helps because if we have one guy throwing then we don’t have to revamp the whole lineup. That depth is a benefit.”
North lost its opener to Dublin Coffman 4-3 on March 27 before defeating Marysville 16-2 on March 29 and 17-9 on March 30. The Warriors open OCC-Capital Division play April 14 at home against Franklin Heights.
INSIDE THE WARRIORS
•Coach: Sean Rings, 11th season
•Next game: April 8 vs. Newark
•Key athletes: Brennan Albertini, J.J. Dixon, Kobe Hunter, Cole Merrell, Trevor Newtz and Rocco Thomas
Warhawks happy to
be back on field
Central coach Jeff Keifer believes his team is ready to contend for league and district titles.
“We’re deep,” he said. “We have 12 or 13 hitters who could be in the lineup at any point. Our pitchers are getting better. We can go toe to toe with anybody.”
The Warhawks won their first three games, beating Dublin Scioto 14-2 in five innings March 29, Watkins Memorial 10-6 on March 30 and Worthington Kilbourne 10-2 on March 31.
Keifer, who is in his 12th season, expects his team to improve on a 15-13 record in 2019.
“Not having a season last year, there’s a lot of unknowns,” he said. “There were only really a handful of sophomores who I saw a lot, (but) it’s been great. We’re off to a good start.”
Central returns five players from 2019 in seniors Corbin Caplan (P/1B), Kyle Denney (CF), Justin Fleetwood (C/OF), Joey Ohl (P/INF) and Tyler Sackett (2B/SS).
Keifer expects junior Cullen Hassel (C/OF/DH) to emerge as one of the Warhawks’ top hitters, and the pitching staff should feature Caplan, Ohl, senior Evan Schumacher (P/3B) and juniors Luka George (P/OF) and Parker Tomlin (P).
Senior Owen Franks (OF), juniors Jason Boller (2B/SS) and Brad Leonard (P/INF/OF) and sophomore Jay Tomes are others contending for starting spots.
Central opens OCC-Ohio play April 12 at home against Pickerington North.
“We were talking about how lucky we are and not to do anything to jeopardize our season,” Keifer said. “Wear your mask and do all that stuff.”
INSIDE THE WARHAWKS
•Coach: Jeff Keifer, 12th season
•Next game: April 9 at Delaware
•Key athletes: Kyle Denney, Justin Fleetwood and Tyler Sackett
likes team’s depth
South coach Tim Bates believes depth and pitching will be strong points for his team, which split its first two games.
The Wildcats lost 3-2 to New Albany in eight innings March 27 and beat Olentangy Liberty 11-7 on March 30.
“We have eight seniors and every one of them dressed for varsity games as sophomores,” said Bates, who is in his 17th season. “This is their year. Since we didn’t have a season last year, this is their final hurrah.”
South returns a number of key contributors from a team that finished 12-12 in 2019.
Brayden White (C/P) batted .325, Matthew Bame (OF/P/1B) hit .321, Nick McConnell (1B/P) batted .306 and Logan Hunn (SS/P) hit .300. All four are seniors along with another returnee, Brandon Kim (3B/P/OF).
“We have great senior leadership,” Bates said.
Bates expects Bame, White, Hunn and senior Andrew Collinsworth (INF/P/C) to lead the pitching staff.
“We have pitching depth,” Bates said. “We’re carrying 13 players and there’s nine guys who threw in scrimmages. Every one of them were effective.”
Bates called junior Kaden Saunders, a Penn State football commit, “the best center fielder in central Ohio.”
The Wildcats open OCC-Capital play April 14 at Scioto. The league schedule features games with Westerville North on April 23 and 24.
“The league is going to be a nice change of pace,” Bates said. “(There are) solid baseball teams in this division. It’s nice to still have one of the Westerville teams in your league to keep up the enthusiasm. The intensity is always high when you play a Westerville team.”
INSIDE THE WILDCATS
•Coach: Tim Bates, 17th season
•Next game: April 10 at Johnstown (DH)
•Key athletes: Matthew Bame, Kaden Saunders and Brayden White