Despite the loss of several key contributors to graduation, the returning players for the Westerville South baseball team have set their sights on matching last year achievements.
South earned its first district title and captured its first OCC championship since 1983, winning the OCC-Capital Division at 12-2.
The season ended for the Wildcats with an 8-7 loss to Olentangy Orange in a Division I regional semifinal.
“We talk about last year,” said coach Tim Bates, who is in his 18th season. “We talk about the standard that was set last year. We talk about the level of play that was set last year and the level of expectations and accountability that players have. They’re making sure that their teammates are accountable. ”
One of the returnees is senior Jack Bates (SS / P), who has moved to shortstop from second base after being named honorable mention all-district and all-league last spring.
“We put last year behind us,” said Bates, who is the coach’s son. “It’s definitely a new year and we’re trying to build up our guys who are still here.”
Junior Thatcher Dietz replaces 2021 graduate Brayden White at catcher.
“I got some time last year at DH and got some innings behind the plate,” said Dietz, who is also expected to see time on the mound. “I’m ready to be a leader. I’m ready to get it going. We have to get more time outside and work on some small things. If we can get that together, we can make another run. ”
Junior Clark Metz is expected to be one of the top pitchers and also will play in the infield.
“I did not play every game last year, but I watched and I was at every game,” Metz said. “I got to learn from the other guys around the dugout, watching how they communicated on the field. That really left a big impact on me and how I play the game now. ”
Also back are senior Mitchell Berk (INF / C) and sophomores Josh Hoffman (1B / P), Cameron Pinter (OF) and Dylan Shoemaker (OF).
Hoffman and Metz are the only returning players with significant pitching experience at the varsity level.
“We were very aggressive last year,” coach Bates said. “One thing that we’ll continue to do is manufacture runs and be very aggressive on the base paths.”
South lost many of last season’s top players to graduation. White was first-team all-state and all-district and the OCC-Capital Player of the Year. Now playing at Toledo, he batted .480 with five home runs and 39 RBI and scored 32 runs.
Also gone is center fielder Kaden Saunders, who graduated in December to enroll early at Penn State and begin offseason workouts with the football team. He batted .420 with 30 runs scored and 27 stolen bases, and was first-team all-district and second-team all-league.
Other losses to graduation included Andrew Collinsworth (P; first-team all-district and all-league), Logan Hunn (P / INF; first-team all-league and second-team all-district), Matthew Bame (OF / P ; second-team all-district and all-league) and Santo Scillia (OF / INF / C; special mention all-league).
Collinsworth (Bluffton), Bame (Ohio Dominican) and Hunn (Ohio Northern) are playing collegiately.
“With the eight seniors and Kaden leaving, we’re going to have a completely new starting outfield, and other than Jack and Thatcher, we’re going to have a completely new starting infield,” said coach Bates, whose team finished ninth in the final regular-season state poll a year ago.
• Coach: Jeff Keifer, 13th season
• Top players: Jason Boller, Luka George, Cullen Hassel, Brad Leonard and Jay Tomes
• Key losses: Corbin Caplan, Kyle Denney, Joey Ohl and Evan Schumacher
• Last season: 17-12 overall
• 2021 OCC-Ohio standings: Grove City (11-4), New Albany (10-5), Gahanna (8-7), Pickerington North (8-7), Central (8-7), Westland (0-15)
• 2021 postseason: Def. Groveport 11-1 (6 innings); lost to Olentangy Liberty 4-2 in Division I district semifinal
• Outlook: With a solid pitching staff and key returnees on offense, coach Jeff Keifer believes his team can compete for league and district titles.
Back are seniors Cullen Hassel (C / OF, .346, 18 RBI) and Brad Leonard (1B / OF / P), both of whom were second-team all-league.
Keifer expects senior left-hander Luka George (P / OF) to emerge as the ace of the pitching staff, which will also include seniors Andrew Beck (C / P / OF / INF), Jake Borders (P / OF) and Parker Tomlin (P / INF) and junior Kyle Finnegan (P / OF).
Leonard will play first base, with senior Jason Boller (P / INF) at second base, junior Jay Tomes (P / INF) at shortstop, Beck at third base and Hassel at catcher. Junior Justin Hamberg (OF / C) will play center field, and he will be joined in the outfield by Borders and seniors Dylan Gorgias (OF / INF), Owen Graff (OF / INF) and Liam McSweeny.
Senior Andrew Sitz (1B / P) will miss the season with a knee injury, according to Keifer.
Central lost 12 players to graduation, including a pair of first-team all-league selections in Kyle Denney (OF, .382) and Corbin Caplan (P / 1B, .321I). Denney was honorable mention all-district, and Caplan is playing at Heidelberg.
• Quotable: “The thing I like most about it is the kids. We have great (parental) support and I have great assistant coaches. It’s not the wins or losses or the team necessarily. As I get older, I appreciate (the kids and support) even more. It’s fun to come work with these guys. … The OCC-Ohio is pretty brutal. We have enough talent to compete. It’s just a matter of staying consistent and getting a few breaks here and there. ” – Keifer
– Frank DiRenna
• Coach: Tom Neubert, 14th season
• Top players: Ryan Gustafson, Christian Hopp, Niko Kreuzer, Devin McInerney and Cedric Stewart
• Key losses: Aiden Cannon, Connor Huzicka and Matthew Stewart
• Last season: 12-18-1 overall
• 2021 CCL standings: Hartley (6-2), DeSales (5-3), St. Charles (4-4), Watterson (4-4), Ready (1-7)
• 2021 postseason: Def. Granville 6-3; def. Utica 8-0; lost to Bloom-Carroll 4-3 in Division II district final
• Outlook: Coach Tom Neubert has seen the successful second half of last season, when the Stallions went 11-11-1 after a 1-7 start, carry over with the return of his entire outfield and several pitchers and infielders among 12 letterwinners who are back.
Senior Ryan Gustafson paces the outfield in center after batting .319 with 23 hits and seven RBI a year ago. He is flanked by classmate and Penn State-DuBois recruit Christian Hopp in left and junior Niko Kreuzer in right, both of whom are expected to be among DeSales’ top pitchers along with junior Cedric Stewart and sophomore Anthony Zegunis.
They will be caught primarily by junior Anthony Pickford.
Stewart anchors the right side of the infield at first base. Sophomore Devin McInerney moved from third base to shortstop, junior Ty Blackburn and sophomore Vincent Patina will rotate at second base and junior Nathan Hickey plays third.
Ashland recruit Hayden Bucher, a third baseman and pitcher, is out for the season with a stress fracture in his back.
• Quotable: “We thought our pitching would be pretty strong and it proved to be. We’ll see once we get into (more) competition, but I feel like we’ve done well early. … They’ve improved and had a great offseason. It’s the first chance we’ve had for a real lifting program in the offseason in three years. They’ve gotten stronger and definitely gotten better. ” – Neubert
• Coach: Sean Ring, 12th season
• Top players: Aiden Dickinson, James McCreery, Trevor Newtz, Lance Preston and Donovan Varney
• Key losses: Brennan Albertini, JJ Dixon and Kobe Hunter
• Last season: 12-12 overall
• 2021 OCC-Capital standings: Westerville South (12-2), Canal Winchester (11-3), Worthington Kilbourne (9-5), Dublin Scioto (8-6), Big Walnut (6-6) Westerville North (5-7), Delaware (3 -11), Franklin Heights (0-14)
• 2021 postseason: Lost to Marysville 5-1 in first round of Division I district tournament
• Outlook: Several of last year top players return, led by seniors James McCreery (OF; .390, 15 RBI, 27 stolen bases) and Trevor Newtz (SS / 3B / P; .313, 22 RBI). Classmate Donovan Varney (C / OF) and junior Aiden Dickinson (OF) batted .330 and .304, respectively.
McCreery is a Wittenberg football recruit.
Newtz was also 3-3 with a 5.10 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 28 walks in 35 2/3 innings.
Coach Sean Ring is excited about the potential contributions of junior Brock Wright, a pitcher and infielder who missed all of last year because of an ACL injury.
• Quotable: “We’re still working on finding our identity. … I believe this season we’ll have much better depth than last season. Injuries had an impact on our season, which really showed up in the final games. This year we hope to be fresher and finish stronger. ” – Ring
• Coach: Tim Bates, 18th season
• Top players: Jack Bates, Thatcher Dietz and Clark Metz
• Key losses: Matthew Bame, Andrew Collinsworth, Logan Hunn, Kaden Saunders, Santo Scillia and Brayden White
• Last season: 26-4 overall
• 2021 postseason: Def. Hilliard Davidson 6-4; def. Gahanna 10-3; def. Hilliard Darby 3-2; lost to Olentangy Orange 8-7 in Division I regional semifinal