The Olentangy baseball team was down two runs and three outs away from dropping its sixth game out of its first eight when it finally found what it was looking for when the 2016 season began.
“At that point in the season, we didn’t have an identity at all,” Olentangy coach Ryan Lucas said. “It really happened against Big Walnut … it was after that game that we rolled off 10 in a row, got off to a great start in the league and we formed an identity.”
Olentangy loaded the bases on a pair of walks and an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Two squeeze bunts and a sacrifice fly later, the Braves completed the comeback that changed their season.
The 10-game winning streak led to a second straight OCC title and Olentangy’s first district title since 2012.
Lucas sees this season’s squad in much the same way. They need to find an identity and replace some very big pieces from last year’s squad.
Ace pitcher Collin Hoffmann, All-Ohio catcher Nate Monastra, second baseman Christian McFarland and left-fielder Thomas Beckman all graduated last spring. Collin Mathews (center field/pitcher) won’t return this season, either.
“(Hoffmann) was our number one the last three years … so, we lost our ace,” Lucas said. “Monastra behind the plate was first team all-state – it’s hard to (replace him). (McFarland) was one of the best second basemen in the area and they were three-year starters. So, it’s hard to fill those gaps.”
Olentangy took eventual state champion Pickerington North 10 innings in the regional final before running out of gas.
“That’s how close we are from maybe us winning a state championship,” Lucas said. “I can’t tell our guys that’s what we’re going to do (this season), but we do have a lot of guys back that have that experience, which is huge.”
Lucas sees this year’s pitching staff as a strength for the team.
“We’ve got five or six guys that I feel really good about starting a league game,” Lucas said. “This is my fifth year … this is the deepest and most talented pitching staff we’ve had.”
Berto Carselle (senior) and Caden Kaiser (sophomore) will anchor a pitching staff that includes Cameron Kaiser (senior), Nick Foy (junior), Evan Brock (junior), Ethan Kellner (junior) and Cole Robinson (junior).
Carselle provides Lucas with the versatility to start, pitch middle relief or close.
“He knows how to pitch,” Lucas said. “His velocity is not overwhelming, but he knows how to pitch … and he’s pitched in big-time games at the varsity level. So, he can get guys out. So, I feel really good about that.”
Olentangy has experience back in Josh Moeller (junior/shortstop) and Jake McIntyre (senior/outfielder). Sam Nourse (senior/second base) and Sam Allinger (senior/corner infielder) will see their respective roles with the team increase.
Olentangy, which joins rivals Liberty and Orange in the OCC-Buckeye, opens at home against Fairfield Union Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Jack Schone takes over as the head coach at Big Walnut, replacing Chris Holly, now the pitching coach at Ohio Wesleyan.
“I’m wearing more hats than what I thought I would,” Schone said. “It’s a nice transition for me in terms of – it’s the game I love and I get to do it full-time now. I’m trying to keep myself at a controlled pace and keep things simple for now.”
The Golden Eagles have to replace a talented senior class that won back-to-back district titles, made an appearance in the Division II final four and were regional semifinalists in Division I last season.
Jakob Evans (right field), Nick Green (catcher) and Jacob Young (first base) all played key roles on the team last season as well as center fielder Nick Moser (Mount Vernon Nazarene), pitcher Tommy Fleser (Ohio Northern) and Andrew Klamfoth (Ohio Christian), who have all moved on to play at the college level.
“I’ve had a few of the kids at the 10-, 11-, 12-year-old level,” Schone said. “I’ve been lucky enough to grow through school with them … taking their freshman and their sophomore steps right along with them. It was really neat to be able to watch that unfold.”
Even with all of that talent gone, BW has experience and a talented pitching staff back.
The pitching staff will be led by Henry von Hollen (senior), who tossed a complete game in the district title victory over Pickerington Central; and Austin Becker (junior), who is a Vanderbilt commit.
All 21 on BW’s roster are either juniors or seniors. Seniors Nick Dimitroff (outfield/second base), Parker Imertreijs (catcher/pitcher/third base) and Nick Humphries (first base/outfield) and juniors Connor Gerren (outfield/pitcher), Colton Lee (utility) and Noah Sprowls (second base/shortstop/pitcher) all return from last season’s squad.
“We do have returning seniors this year that we are expecting to fill those (leadership) roles,” Schone said. “That’s going to be the challenge for the staff going into this year … looking for those individuals that are going to step up into those roles.”
Seniors Owen Ramsey (second base/outfield), Will Holland (outfield/shortstop/third base) and Kobe Swackhammer (first base/outfield) and juniors Kyler Plummer (first base), Zach Rines (outfield), Jackson Seiple (first base/outfield/pitcher), Jake Kletrovitch (catcher), JJ McLean (outfield), Evan Ferriman (outfield), Austin Krinn (second base/third base), Jake Foster (third base), Dylan Seward (outfield/second base) and Cale Sherbourne (third base/outfield) round out the roster.
“I see us competing and contending (for an OCC-Capital title),” Schone said. “I’m not going to sell us short at all. I think once all the pieces are put into place and we get settled, I think there’s a lot of good things that we can do.”
The Barons look to build off last year’s tournament run. BV won two postseason games for the first time since 2002 and did it by upsetting Bexley and Sparta Highland.
“I feel like that has a big part in some of the confidence that we’ve rolled into the beginning of this season with,” BV coach Adam Hall said. “And confidence for a reason, not confidence out of nowhere.”
Hall knew his team was capable of that all season.
“I think they feel like the way that they ended should have been the way that they played all year long,” Hall said. “We had a talented team last year, but we didn’t put the work in every day to get to where we needed to get to until the end of the year.
“We have come into this year with that kind of attitude … we’re good, but we want to get better and we know we have to come in every day and put the work in. They have a big picture, but they know what they have to do in the small picture to get to the big picture.”
BV certainly has the experience with nine seniors on its 16-man roster.
Ben Spaulding (center field/pitcher) and Leo Wells (catcher) highlight the senior class. Spaulding was first team All-MOAC last season and Wells was honorable mention.
Dawson Worl (second base/pitcher), Hayden Owens (pitcher/third base), Dominic Bertke (second base), Max Gentile (pitcher/right field), Jake Moeslein (left field), Nathan Edington (outfield/pitcher) and Dylan Lydy (pitcher/third base) round out the rest of the senior class.
“(With) nine seniors on the team, we’re looking for a good season,” Hall said. “Nine guys that have been a part of the program for four years that know how to play the game … that know what’s expected. They have some pretty lofty goals for themselves this year.”
Juniors Landon Alexander (third base), Travis Pennington (first base), Branson Kurtz (shortstop) and Zach Schneider (catcher/second base/outfield) all return from last year’s squad.
Juniors Joey Stilson (left field) and Kyler Lewis (second base) and sophomore Grant Owens (pitcher) round out the rest of the roster.
It’ll be a lonely dugout for first-year coach Jeff Lowe, who takes over for 2016 MOCAL Coach of the Year John Standley, who’s full-time job commitments changed, according to Lowe.
Lowe, who is in his first year as a high school bible teacher at DCS, skippers an Eagles team that has just nine players on the squad this season, so there’s little room for error.
“We’re building now … and we’re trying to create excitement for the baseball program moving forward,” Lowe said.
Still, Lowe likes what he has and hopes this squad will help build the program for the future.
“I think we have a good team and a good core and they will all improve,” Lowe said.
The Eagles have six players back from last year’s squad, which finished 7-10 and fell to Danville in the second round of the district tournament after a first-round win over Granville Christian.
Adam Standley (pitcher/center field) is the only senior on the squad. He is joined by fellow returnees in juniors Ryan Manny (pitcher/shortstop/catcher), Isaac Rindfuss (shortstop/pitcher) and Dirk Harris (first base) and sophomore Seth Standley (pitcher/utility).
Junior outfielders John Comer and Chad Blakemore, sophomore Jacob Kranjik (third base/second base) and freshman Sam Rindfuss (second base) are new additions to the varsity team.
Fourth-year coach Ryan Montgomery thinks that pitching and experience are two things his Pacers have going for them this season.
Senior Tyler Brown, who was honorable-mention All-OCC in the Capital Division, emerged as Delaware’s ace last season.
“Ty puts in a ton of work – he’s really dedicated. He’s not going to overpower you with a fastball … but, he can locate really well,” Montgomery said.
But, Mason J. Davis (sophomore) wants the No. 1 spot, too.
“Mason J. Davis is nipping at his heels,” Montgomery said. “Mason wants that (No. 1) spot and Ty doesn’t want to give it up. So, they’re pushing themselves through this offseason so well.”
What’s emerged is a coach’s dream.
It’s a good, friendly competition,” Montgomery said. “After a bullpen, they’re giving each other high-fives, telling each other how well they’re doing. It’s nothing that’s going to deteriorate from the team. As a coach, that’s what I’m hoping for. I think that competition is going to foster some excellence with them.”
Nick Neuhart (junior) and Jason Cross (junior) are expected to contribute on the mound as well.
“Our pitching depth this year, I think, is really good,” Montgomery said. “We might be able have more arms in some situations with the new pitch count rules than some teams.”
The other strength Delaware has is experience. The Pacers have 16 juniors and seniors on an 18-man roster.
Ben Yoakum (outfield), Gabe Phillips (first base/second base), Mason W. Davis (catcher), Garrett Price (pitcher/utility), Sam Midura (pitcher/first base) and David Kelly (pitcher) provide leadership.
Mason W. Davis was second team All-OCC last season.
Juniors Ryan Daughenbaugh (outfield), Domonic Byers (utility), Cole Barton (utility) and sophomore Zach Miller (outfield) all saw significant time last season for the Pacers, who finished 9-17 overall and 4-10 in league play.
“We’ve trained all off-season with kind of a chip on our shoulder,” Montgomery said. “I told them, ‘Teams might look down on you – they might not respect you.’ So, we have an ability and a chance to finally take that step forward and let our presence be known in a part of the OCC that doesn’t really know Delaware baseball.”
He puts that experience to use in the new OCC-Cardinal against Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne.
Darby won the Cardinal last season, was the top seed in the district tournament and a district finalist.
“It’ll be interesting to see after the first time through how teams will adjust,” Montgomery said. “We’ve never played Thomas, we’ve never played Jerome, never played Darby – so, kind of them trying to feel us out and us the same. I think it’ll be interesting.”
It sounds odd at first listen to hear fifth-year coach Ty Brenning talk about last season as anything other than a disappointment after his Patriots squad was upset by Big Walnut in a Division I district semifinal game.
“We’re not going to define our success on somebody else’s terms,” Brenning said. “We’re going to work hard every day to define our own success.
“We’re going to define ourselves based on our effort, our energy, our growth and I think if we focus on the process, then those things that other people like to focus on that are more product-oriented or focused … those things will come and go. Those things will happen on their own.”
Even with that said, Liberty has had success … no matter who’s measuring it. Success to the tune of three straight OCC-Central championships from 2014 through 2016 and district titles in 2015 and 16.
“We try not to get too concerned on championships … try not to get too concerned on the score of a game or, honestly, who’s in the other dugout,” he said. “Those are all variables that we can’t control.
“If we can make this about us and winning the internal game – winning that challenge every day – then we’re going to define our own success and be happy of the outcome regardless of the results.”
The Patriots have to replace seven seniors off of last year’s squad – all of which played big roles.
Brenning looks to this year’s crop of seniors – Ryan Hoffman (first base/third base), Ben Buehrer (pitcher/third base), Connor Stewart (first base/pitcher), Hunter Voorhees (pitcher/left field) and Preston Stanley (pitcher) – to provide the leadership that has been a staple on Liberty programs in the past.
“The thing I’m excited about with our current senior leaders is, when they do leave you, they leave something behind,” Brenning said. “They are the big brothers in our locker room and they want to make sure that they leave our locker room in a better place than they found it.”
Senior Brandon Brown, juniors Michael Osmond, Mitch Milheim and Beau Foster and sophomore Jack Metzger should see lots of work on the mound.
Brenning sees some combination of Brown, Connor Osmond (junior), Craig Lutwen (sophomore) and Brennan Rowe (freshman) patrolling the middle infield replacing Corbin Rapier and Chase Gresock.
Hoffman, Stewart and Osmond should see time at first base and Carson Comer (junior) should man third with Buehrer and Hoffman providing depth.
Brenning likes his best outfielder in right field, so Mitchell Okuley (sophomore) moves over from center to replace Jordan Seich.
“Philosophically, it’s the way we do things … at our place the sun goes down in the right fielder’s eyes and we get a lot of balls that slice that direction,” Brenning said. “We want guys that are super-athletic out there with strong arms. I fully anticipate Mitch being that guy this year.”
Ryan Elgin (junior), Corbin Parrish (freshman) and Grant Wilson (sophomore) will compete for time in center and Voorhees, Milheim and Wilson provide depth in left.
Coach Phil Callaghan wants his team to look no further than its rivals in Lewis Center to draw inspiration.
“Olentangy faced some adversity early and it seemed to really have drawn them together and they played extremely hard,” he said. “We’re kind of hoping that, just even watching that happen to them, that we’re drawing on some of that.”
The Pioneers certainly have an experienced and talent-laden staff capable of making that happen.
“I think (our season) will be (determined), as it always is in sports, by how this group comes together,” Callaghan said. “Everybody, especially this day and age, wants to look at the talent level.
“But, it’s doesn’t matter what level you’re at – it’s not the talent that determines everything. For us, what it’s going to come down to – because the talent is there – is how close do we become and how hard do we play the game. If we approach it like you’re just going out to play the game as hard as you can, then we’re going to be fine.”
Orange features a deep and experienced pitching staff led by seniors Tyler Brown, Jason Schutte, Matthew Poole, Garrett O’Reilly, Adam Brady and Logan Moss.
Brown, who was relegated to designated hitter duty last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, has a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s. Callaghan sees the Vanderbilt commit as his ace this season.
“Tyler is an extremely hard-worker, he’s a student of the game, he trains hard and he’s taking guys along with him,” Callaghan said. “So I feel like, just from a sheer working out and training aspect, we have gotten much, much better. You put that at the top of your staff – it, obviously, makes things easier.”
Schutte (first base), Moss (second base), Poole (shortstop) and O’Reilly (third base) make up a solid infield full of experience to go with their duties on the mound.
Callaghan thinks senior Zach Stiteler has grown into one of the best catchers in the area.
Centerfielder Zach Pfeiffer (senior) is a two-year starter and will anchor the outfield.
Junior Cole Callaghan should start in left and Austin Clark (senior), Ben Miller (junior), Robbie Dayhuff (sophomore), Tyler Ross (sophomore) and David Hughes (freshman) are all in the mix in right.
Drew Bell (second base/catcher) and Frank Rivelle (outfield/pitcher) round out a senior class of 11 and junior Jack Betz (first base) and Connor Evans (catcher) should see time as well.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.