Expectations are growing at Buckeye Local.
Following a 12-14 campaign in which the Panthers advanced to the OVAC semifinals for the first time in a decade, Head Coach Rick DeLuca believes more good things are in store for his program this spring.
''We are looking to have a very good season this year,'' said DeLuca, entering his second season. ''I'm very fortunate to have a very talented group of players back this year and a very good group of veteran players that have taken a leadership role with no questions asked.''
PICTURED ARE the key returnees for the Buckeye Local baseball team. Front row, from left, are Eric Williams, Dominic Rose, Jonathan Borkoski and Josh Figurski. Back row, from left, are Eric Banal, Chase Hopkins and Brandon Panepucci.
Gone are Austin Marshall, a four-year letterwinner who took his talents to Mount Union, along with three-year letterwinners Shane Duncan and Brian Zeroski. Jonathan Roth, Lucas Ostijich and Tony Panepucci also picked up diplomas.
Leading the way are seven seniors, five of whom started a year ago - Chase Hopkins, Eric Williams, Josh Figurski, Dominic Rose and Jonathan Borkoski.
Hopkins (P-CF), a three-year letterwinner, batted .301 with six doubles. He's also the Panthers' top returning pitcher.
Borkoski (P-SS) boasted a .349 plate average with seven doubles, five homers and 32 RBI.
Williams (P-OF-IF) posted a 5-1 mound mark last year, while Figurski batted .417. Rose started at third and is entering his fourth season on the roster.
Zach Kaiser (OF) and Derek Sebring (C-P) are the other seniors. Sebring is a first-year player and should be the starting catcher, according to DeLuca.
Eric Banal (P-OF) anchors the junior portion of the varsity roster. A starter a year ago, he batted .366 with 30 hits, including 19 doubles. He knocked in 19 runs.
Brandon Panepucci (2B-P) is the other junior.
''Chase Hopkins, Eric Williams and Jonathan Borkoski give us a very sound pitching rotation,'' DeLuca said. ''Add to that Eric Banal and our staff will be solid.
''Banal is one of the best outfielders in the valley and when Hopkins isn't pitching that outfield can cover a lot of ground. We made some mistakes last year and got started late in a few games that cost us.''
Sophomores Logan Noon (P-OF) and Alex Donley (P-IF) will move between varsity and JV, while freshmen Corey Neavin (P-OF-IF) and Jared Moore (P-OF-IF) will both be asked to contribute varsitywise.
Other juniors in the mix include Austin Antill (P-IF), Logan Dehnart (OF), Seth Touville (P-1B), Ryan Faulkner (OF), Dylan Grubb (SS) and Damion Beall.
Zach Merkel (C), Mason Patterson (P-3B), Tyler Boyd (OF), Jason Worrell (OF) and Brandon Mayle (OF) will provide support as sophomores, while Brandon Anderson (P-OF), Wyatt Cornish (OF), Andrew Hillman (P-3B) and DonRay Mayle (IF-OF) complete the freshmen.
''We moved our home game with Union Local to Consol Energy Park (in Washington, Pa.), the home of the Washington Wild Things, and our kids are looking forward to that,'' DeLuca said. ''Our schedule is a tough one.
DeLuca is assisted by Rob Hennebert (varsity assistant) and Greg Novak and Anthony Barsch (JV co-coaches).
Buckeye Local's schedule is as follows:.
March 29 - Oak Glen (DH), 11 a.m.; March 31 - Edison; April 1 - Weir; April 2 - at Edison; April 4 - at Harrison Central; April 5 - at Weir, Noon; April 7 - Harrison Central; April 9 - Indian Creek; April 11 - at Indian Creek; April 14 -- Union Local (at Consol Energy Park), 7 p.m.; April 16 - at Union Local; April 17 - at Toronto; April 19 - at St. Clairsville (DH), Noon; April 21 - Bellaire; April 22 - at John Marshall; April 23 - at Bellaire; April 24 - Toronto; April 25 - at Martins Ferry; April 29 - East Liverpool; April 30 - at East Liverpool; May 1 - John Marshall; May 5 - at Shadyside; May 6 - at Bridgeport, 7 p.m.; May 8 - Shadyside