Braves set sights on trip to Huntington Park


By Michael Rich - For the Gazette



Sixth-year Olentangy baseball coach Ryan Lucas pointed out that it’s only 18.7 miles from the school to Huntington Park.

The team has adopted the number as a mantra so much so that it’s now using it to break the huddle.

Lucas feels like his teams have been good enough the past couple of seasons to make the trip, but they haven’t been able to close out their elimination games.

Last season – Olentangy went back-and-forth with Gahanna Lincoln in the district title game, leading 8-7 through five innings. But, the Lions tied it in the sixth before scoring three in the seventh, holding off Olentangy for an 11-10 win.

“I was disappointed in the way we finished – I felt like we could have gone to Huntington,” Lucas said. “We had the lead in the sixth inning and we just didn’t knock the door down. We were tentative and we got tight and we played – almost not to lose.”

Olentangy held a 2-1 edge in the fourth inning against eventual state champion Pickerington North in the regional semifinal round two seasons ago. North tied it in the fifth before finally winning it with a five-run 13th inning.

“Our challenge will be our players accepting and embracing roles, making everything about the team, and knocking the door down once we put ourselves in a position to win a championship,” Lucas said. “We need to finish in these big games to knock the door down and get to Huntington.”

Success hasn’t been the problem. Olentangy has reached the district bracket every year since 2009 and won two district titles along the way. It’ll be playing for a fourth consecutive league title this season.

“We’ve got a lot of veteran guys,” Lucas said. “We’ve got 11 seniors, we’ve got great pitching depth, we’re balanced, we can hit it, we’ve got guys who are going to college.”

Six starters from last year join an additional six letterwinners, and Lucas sprinkles in four newcomers he expects to play major roles this season.

Seniors Luke Hassinger (catcher), Cole Robinson (outfield), Josh Moeller (shortstop) and Nick Foy (pitcher/first base) and juniors Caden Kaiser (pitcher/outfield) and Logan Ketron (third base/outfield) all return to the lineup.

Seniors Tyler Karbler (third base), Ethan Kellner (outfield/pitcher), Evan Brock (outfield/pitcher), Braydon Chitty (outfield) and Nate Wilhelm (pitcher) are returning letterwinners that Lucas expects to contribute heavily to the lineup.

Juniors Connor McNulty (second base), Danny Delgratta (pitcher) and Christian Bova (pitcher) and freshman Jace Middleton (pitcher/outfielder) are newcomers that Lucas thinks will be key contributors this season.

“We’ve got talent and our chemistry is great,” Lucas said. “Let’s put ourselves in a position to win the league and put ourselves in a position to make a run in the tournament.”

Olentangy opens the season at Hilliard Davidson Mar. 24 and heads to Myrtle Beach for its spring trip before opening at home against Teays Valley Mar. 31.

SOFTBALL

Sixth-year Olentangy softball coach Alan Tharpe thought his team underachieved last season when it finished 14-10-1 and was one-and-done in the second round of the district tournament.

Olentangy had some high points last season – namely finishing second in the OCC-Buckeye at 7-3 behind champion Westerville Central.

As for this season – the team features an experienced battery. Both of last year’s key pitchers — Sophie Low (senior) and Payton Cox (sophomore) — return along with catcher Olivia Bigham (senior).

“(Low) is a solid offensive threat and a great leader,” Tharpe said. “Payton Cox is a very versatile defensive player. She’ll be at first, outfield and see a lot of innings on the mound. She’ll be an offensive power threat.”

Emily Bullock (junior) and Maia Crumb (freshman) will each see time at first as well.

Senior Emily Gernert will get some work in the circle and Blythe Beaumont (sophomore), Ana Oliverio (junior) and Crumb (freshman) are all helping out behind the plate.

Senior Morgan Cox will play the middle infield and is a key part to Olentangy’s offense. She will be joined up the middle by Olivia Davidson (freshman).

“We expect a great year for Morgan,” Tharpe said. “She (led) the Braves in almost all offensive categories last season.”

Tharpe described Brooke Wells (junior) as his spark plug defensively. She will handle the hot corner.

Kristen Kracht (sophomore) brings power to the lineup. She will be joined in the outfield by seniors Olivia Gregory, Maddy Beachley, Erika Brehm and Gernert.

Senior Olivia Hupp brings leadership and versatility as a utility player.

“We have some really good talent this season and we expect good things from our underclassman,” Tharpe said. “We have a 16-player roster this season and any of them can produce on the field and at the plate. We plan to continue to improve our defensive game and we anticipate that to be our strength.”

Olentangy opens the season with a trip to Myrtle Beach, facing Wheaton (IL) St. Francis in the first of five games Mar. 26 at 11 a.m. It’ll open the home slate against rival Big Walnut Apr. 2 at 5:15 p.m.

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By Michael Rich

For the Gazette

Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at mrichnotwealthy@gmail.com.

Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at mrichnotwealthy@gmail.com.