The time is now to turn expectations, potential and hard work into championship realities on the baseball diamond.
For Grays Harbor’s four big-school baseball teams, 2017 is the year where the window of opportunity to get to Yakima and play for a state title opens up.
At Aberdeen, there are nine seniors who have been working and playing together since they were in Little League who have one last chance to fulfill their title hopes. At Hoquiam, two straight state 1A championship game appearances have fed expectations for a third trip in three years with a new, yet experienced, group.
At Montesano, a young and experienced group will have a new coach to guide them this year. At Elma, it’ll have a new coach to take over a young roster in a rebuilding program.
Returning to the Evergreen 2A Conference after two years as a District IV 2A independent, the Bobcats have their best roster set for a run into the postseason.
Fielding nine seniors who have played together since Little League, Aberdeen window of opportunity is at its widest this year. Last year, the Bobcats were edged out by Tumwater in a district pigtail game.
After the loss to the T-Birds, expectations for this season began and are sky high at Ken Waite Field.
“It is here,” AHS head coach Shon Schreiber said. “The kids feel that pressure, that they want to do it. We have the talent, but it is between our ears right now. It’ll come down to mindset. Will we be satisfied with what we did last year or are we going to go out and compete?
“We have to go out there and play,” he added. “For the kids, they want to get there. Every year is different, but this is where they wanted to be. They’ve been playing together for a long time.”
This senior group will dominate the lineup, beginning with starting pitchers Grant Larson and Josh Collett. The seniors around the horn are Jake Metke (1B), Brayden Roiko (2B) and CJ Oldham (SS), while Blake Swenson, Austin Lawrence, Brian Fuchser and Milan Jandu will all take over outfield and utility spots.
Juniors Josh Germeaux (3B), Kylan Touch (C), Tyler Souphommanichanh (OF), Hunter Oldham (SP) and Austin Timmons (SP) will join the seniors.
Schreiber noted that with the new state-mandated pitch count rules, he’ll look for a few more arms to go with the four starting pitchers. However, he noted the catch isn’t the rules, but how to schedule the pitchers within them.
“If you get (a backlog) of games, it is going to be a tough spot for everyone,” he added. “Also, you have to play clean. If you have a few errors in an inning, a pitcher’s count can go from 10 to 25 pretty quickly. That’s a tough ask for a high school kid to not make any mistakes.”
For the second year in a row, the Grizzlies will enter the season after enjoying an eventful weekend in Yakima to finish the previous year.
In 2015, Hoquiam knocked off South Whitby to win the state 1A title. Last year, Hoquiam returned to the state 1A title game, but lost to Vashon Island.
This year, the goal and expectations from HHS head coach Steve Jump is to get back there. However, the trip and the journey to get there will be led by an experienced, yet different group of players.
“I’m always a positive, take-on-the-world type of guy, so I believe we will be playing at the end of May,” Jump said. “We filled the shoes last year and we can do it again this year. The kids have bought in and the expectations don’t change.
“If the effort is there, we will go as far as we can. If the effort isn’t there, that is on us. They are buying in to what we need to do.”
Hoquiam will be without two key players this season — senior left-handed pitcher Skyler Jump and junior speedster Payton Quintanilla. Jump had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow during the summer, while Quintanilla suffered a knee injury and surgery during the football season.
With Skyler Jump out, Hoquiam won’t have its ace. However, it will still have a pitching staff — eight players, including last year’s starters Brody Bennett, Sean McAllister and Jerod Steen, will see time on the mound. Behind the plate, senior Zach Spradlin, a St. Martin’s University signee, will guide the pitching staff.
Junior Marques Rivera has stepped in as a pitcher and utility player for the Grizzlies, earning Jump’s praise for his work, after playing junior varsity last year. Sophomore Jackson Folkers will also be a utility player, but saw plenty of action as a middle infielder last year. Garrett Bradley will return as a corner infielder and Walker Dunn is slotted in as a relief pitcher and first baseman.
Currently, Hoquiam has eight players on the varsity roster. Coach Jump noted that this weekend’s Seaside Invitational will be used in finding the remainder of the varsity lineup and roster for the season.
“We’re going to find out who’ll step up and take that varsity spot,” Jump said. “If we go 0-3, but we play well and get the answers to the questions we have, it’ll be a successful trip. However, if we got 3-0 and still don’t know who’ll go where, there will be a lot of work to do. These guys know what they need to do to get back (to Yakima).”
The departure of now-Grays Harbor College head coach Mike Bruner from Montesano opened the door for longtime Elma assistant Mike Osgood to move into the head coaching spot.
The first thing Osgood noted was that the Bulldogs’ cupboard wasn’t bare — a young and experience group of players fill up the roster ranks.
“It is very full right now,” said Osgood, who is a detective for the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Department and who was previously an assistant coach for Elma head coaches Scott Rowland and Collin McMaster. “I’ve had some conversations with Mike and he’s been very helpful.”
Montesano is stocked with pitchers, beginning with seniors Nick Chapman and Austin Peterson, along with a large group of sophomores and juniors. Chapman and Peterson are just two of the four seniors (catcher Sawyer Rhodes and shortstop Noah Quinn) on the roster and all four were cited for their leadership.
Jake Kloempken, Dakoyta Reninger and Evan Bates will complete the pitching rotation for Montesano.
“With our depth, (the pitch count limit) could work to our advantage,” Osgood said. “I’m confident with the pitching staff that we will be able to adapt to the new rules.
“We want to get ahead early and make things easier for our pitchers,” he added. “We want to pressure the other team to play catchup with us. We’re capable of small ball, but there are guys in the middle of the lineup who’ll find the gaps. We have some very disciplined hitters.”
First-year head coach Todd Baun is Elma’s third head coach in three years and he’s in charge of bringing up a young group of players into the fold.
The longtime Elma high school and youth coach unfortunately won’t have senior infielder/pitcher Oscar Escalante this season due to a knee injury suffered early in the winter sport season.
“We’re still trying to figure each other out,” Baun said of the seven seniors on the roster. “However, everyone is working hard. We’re going to rely upon pitching and defense. Every championship I’ve been a part of has had good pitching and defense.”
Baun noted the large group of pitchers who’ll see time on the mound — partially due to the new pitching rules and due to the strength in the program.
Returning lettermen Barrett Burbirdge, Cody Robinette, Shane Ryan, Chase Simpson and Colten French will lead a group of 16 pitchers — varsity and junior varsity — on the mound. The five will also move around the infield when they aren’t pitching.
Freshman center fielder Tyson Richardson will lead the outfielders. Richardson’s experience in the youth ranks, including playing for Team USA in Italy over the summer, will be counted upon early.
“Other than that, we have guys who are going to be filling roles,” said Baun, who is the public works director for the city of McCleary.
“We’re going to go out there, go hard and give it our best shot.”