Choice Theory states, in part, that almost all behavior is chosen.
So, when Olentangy Orange assistant baseball coach Matt Lattig talked to the team before the tournament last season, he asked them to make a choice.
“(He) basically laid out (if) you keep playing baseball the way you’ve been playing, we’ll be done in the first week,” Orange head coach Phil Callaghan said. “If you choose to play (our way), we can make a run.”
Callaghan credited Lattig’s talk as the starting point for the Pioneers’ state final four run.
“You gotta give (the team) credit for choosing to make a run,” Callaghan said. “Any of us that have ever been an athlete … we know when we are giving full effort and we know when human nature takes over and we don’t. That was a choice by those kids and they played great baseball.”
Orange coupled effort with fundamentals, cutting down on its 90s (or free bases as Coach Callaghan calls them) during the tournament run.
The Pioneers posted a zero for the first time in Callaghan’s coaching career in the win over Thomas Worthington in the district title game.
The Pioneers return three starters and nine letter winners off that squad. Those numbers decreased by one because of a season-ending knee injury Tyler Ross suffered during hockey season.
“Adversity is good – it’s how you become better,” Callaghan said. “Tyler Ross has been handling this adversity like a champion. He’s been showing up at practices – he’s like a coach now. He’s really done a great job handling it.”
Experience won’t be a problem in the outfield. Robbie Dayhuff (junior), Ben Miller (senior) and Zach Beatty (senior) return to left, center and right, respectively, and Jackson Tyler will be the fourth outfielder.
Cole Callaghan (senior) moves from right field to his natural position at second base.
The rest of the infield is largely inexperienced. Senior Jack Betz will man first base.
But, short and third will be done by committee with Zane Lattig (sophomore), Sam Till (junior), Josh Laisure (freshman), Braden Riley (sophomore) and Jack Ward (senior) all expected to see time.
Coach Callaghan will lean on Beatty, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, on the mound. Lattig, Tyler, Miller, Laisure and seniors Hunter Andres and Grant Ogden are expected to play roles on the pitching staff.
That group of hurlers will be throwing to Connor Evans (senior) behind the plate.
Josiah Minniear (senior), a returning letter winner, will be a top pinch-hitter off the bench for the Pioneers.
“They’re a tight group,” Phil Callaghan said. “They sure are fun to coach. These teams are like my DeSales teams – they’ll just run through a wall. We’re going to be fun to watch.”
Orange will head down to Destin, Florida for five games beginning Mar. 25 to highlight the non-league schedule.
“I have never (done a Florida trip) and I always said I never would,” Phil Callaghan said. “This is a group that you feel very safe going down there with. We have an incredible roster of outstanding young men. I’ve been blessed in 29 years (as a head coach) that I’ve had great kids on the roster and this is as rock-solid as there’s been.”
Coach Callaghan expects the OCC-Buckeye to be every bit as evenly matched as it was in boys basketball this season.
“I think it’ll be like every year – loaded,” Phil Callaghan said. “I think what we saw in (boys) basketball is what you’ve come to expect in baseball. Top to bottom – there’s just no breaks.”
Second-year Olentangy Orange softball coach Jenna Haskins might have some difficulty filling out the lineup card this season.
She’s got plenty of players that can play multiple positions at her disposal, giving her an array of buttons to push. And that’s a good problem to have.
Eight of the 15 players on the Orange roster can play multiple positions and half of that number are penciled in at as many as three different spots.
“It allows us coaches to really play with the pieces of where we can move everybody – giving everyone an opportunity,” Haskins said.
Alli Rubal (freshman), Tatum Bardash (sophomore) and Alex Ronk will see time at first base and Marie Beattie (junior), Katie Achevich (senior), Josephine Horgan (freshman) and Kinleigh Hill (sophomore) figure in at second.
Cami Clarkson (junior), Horgan and Abby Achevich (senior)are in the mix at shortstop and Horgan, Alyssa Laisure (senior), Teresa Hawk (senior) and Heather Higgins (freshman) will see time at third.
Both Achevichs will see time in left field along with Ronk, Tatum Gibson (sophomore), Ronk and Hill will each patrol center at points during the year and Jenn Rubal (senior), Katie Achevich and Bardash will handle right field duties.
“We have a lot of young girls on our team this year,” Haskins said. “And that’s really to create a sense of competition. In order to become better — and improve from last year — we need to compete against each other if we expect to compete against other (teams).”
Sophomore pitcher Brenna Oliver will continue to play a big role for the Pioneers in the circle. She will be joined by Alli Rubal and Abby Achevich.
Laisure returns behind the plate with Hawk backing her up.
“(Oliver) has … just improved on hitting her spots,” Haskins said. “We’re working with the pitcher-catcher relationship on trusting each other. I think she’s really starting to open up a little bit to where she’s listening to others and understanding that we’re all there to help her.”
Former New Albany coach Patrick Finn joins the staff as an assistant. Finn spent nine seasons skippering the Eagles.
“(He’s) been a fantastic addition,” Haskins said. “He’s been working really hard with pitchers and catchers this year.”
Like the baseball team, Orange heads to Destin, Florida to open the season. The Pioneers play five games in a three-day span beginning Mar. 26.
Orange’s first game in Ohio comes at former league-rival Big Walnut Apr. 4 at 5:15 p.m. The Pioneers open at home against Dublin Jerome the following day.
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