Experience has fueled optimism for Hoquiam’s baseball team. In contrast, a lack of experience represents an obstacle that Aberdeen, Montesano and Elma must overcome this season.
Weather permitting, the prep baseball season for most area teams formally begins next week. Hoquiam is scheduled to host Elma and Cascade Christian in a jamboree Saturday, while Aberdeen is slated to participate in a jamboree the same day at the RAC complex in Lacey.
The outlook for Grays Harbor Class 2A and 1A teams:
The Grizzlies fell one game shy of a regional berth last year with a 14-7 record. With several starters back, including the nucleus of an outstanding pitching staff, Hoquiam ranks with Rochester as the consensus Evergreen 1A League favorites this season.
Although reluctant to make projections, HHS coach Steve Jump doesn’t attempt to contain his enthusiasm.
“I really think we have the whole package, a complete team this season,” Jump said. “If we have kids making grades and not getting injured, I think we’ll be real good. I think we’ll be stronger all the way around — pitching, hitting, defense.”
Jump concedes, however, that pitching will likely be Hoquiam’s forté.
Senior left-hander Sammy Lowder, an all-Evergreen selection whose 2013 season was curtailed by a broken wrist, returns to lead the mound staff. Junior Kyle Standstipher also pitched well last season and will be joined by twin brother Kolby as a pitching regular.
Freshman Skyler Jump, the son of the coach and a standout in both Babe Ruth and Legion ball last summer, will also be part of the Grizzly rotation. Seniors Joel Brydon and Tristan Stutesman and junior Jesiah Bretz will fill in whenever necessary.
Sophomore Jack Skinner will likely do most of the Grizzly catching. Brydon will play first base much of the time, backed up by Jump and Kyle Standstipher. Senior Josh Bishop will open at second base, talented freshman Jerrod Steen at shortstop and Stutesman and Kolby Standstipher operating at third base.
Coach Jump is also high on his team’s outfield, which will include Lowder, senior Blake Kelly and junior Camden Andersen.
Junior Austin Edwards will be Hoquiam’s all-purpose utilityman and is ticketed to see action at second base, shortstop and outfield. Senior Kolby Crowell will also be on the varsity.
Coach Jump sees senior leadership as among the team strengths.
“We have an outstanding group of seniors,” he noted. “They’re great role models for the younger players, they work hard and are our natural leaders.”
He projects Rochester, Montesano and possibly Tenino and Elma as league contenders.
Zac Reynvaan and Jimmy Hargrove return as HHS assistants, with Curtis Eccles taking over the junior varsity program.
The Bobcats are attempting to rebound from one of the most frustrating seasons in recent memory. Aberdeen dropped eight one-run decisions in a 13-9 campaign — two of those to eventual state champion Chehalis.
The Cats graduated most of the key operatives — including their top three pitchers — from that squad. This season’s crew, however, includes several fine athletes who have experienced success at the youth baseball level.
“If we go out and play the way we’re capable of, I think we’ll surprise some people,” second-year head coach Shon Schreiber asserted.
Since they graduated most of their power, however, the Bobcats will look to rely more heavily on small-ball tactics.
“Hopefully, we can stretch it out one through nine (in the batting order), where we can get guys on and move them around,” Schreiber said.
Aberdeen graduated all three members of last year’s pitching rotation. Senior Deon Schlesser, who has pitched well in Legion ball, and junior Tyler Ames, up from the junior varsity, leads this season’s mound candidates. Seniors Lorenzo Ontiveros and Collin Martin, junior Ben Tupper and freshman Josh Collett are also slated for pitching duty.
Juniors Addam Follett and Tupper and sophomore Grant Bowley will handle the catching duties, with brawny senior Jordon Logan at first base and Ames probably at second.
Senior Chase Johnson, a returning starter, will likely play at third base once he recovers from a shoulder injury suffered in a recent accident. He and Austin Kerrigan, another senior afflicted with a shoulder injury, could also operate at designated hitter. Junior Cole Edwards, who split time between the varsity and JV teams last season, is the probable starter at shortstop.
Schlesser will play center field when not pitching and is likely to be flanked by senior Erikk Machowek in left and either Ontiveros or Martin in right field.
Gabe Turner, a senior at North River who is eligible to play at Aberdeen due to the lack of a baseball program at his school, will function as an all-purpose utilityman.
Schreiber said the team goal is to finish in the top four in the Evergreen 2A Conference and thus earn an automatic district berth. He considers Tumwater and Chehalis as the league favorites.
Jesse Marlow will serve as Schreiber’s varsity assistant, with James Lundgren coaching the junior varsity. Former Bobcat pitching ace Reilly Fairchild will join the staff as a volunteer aide. Mason Baseball Legion manager Dave Edwards will also help out when his schedule permits.
State 1A runners-up last year, the Bulldogs saw their roster ravaged by graduation. Senior outfielder Kody Usher is the only full-time starter returning from the club that went 26-2 and captured league and regional championships.
Montesano coach Mike Bruner said his team’s preseason goal of winning a state title hasn’t changed, but acknowledges that lack of experience will be an issue.
“I guess I would characterize it as a very young team,” Bruner said.
The Bulldog coach is optimistic about his team’s hitting, particularly at the top of the batting order. Usher was a prime contributor to last year’s attack while junior third baseman Jacob Hliboki, sophomore first baseman Cole Nelson and sophomore shortstop Maguire Cavanaugh have hit well at the Legion level.
“I think hitting is going to be one of our brighter spots,” Bruner said. “I say that knowing that our league is filled with good pitching. Our success at the plate is going to come with maturing as hitters and developing some bat discipline.”
Senior Jordan Bussard, a part-time starter last season, will handle most of the catching duties. Other probable infield starters include Nelson or Greg Benner (a junior who did not play baseball last season) at first, sophomore Jake Herzog or freshman Sawyer Rhoden at second, Cavanaugh or Herzog at short and Hliboki or senior Evan Bialkowsky at third base. The latter may also see action as a designated hitter.
Usher leads an outfield corps that also includes junior Riley Olson and freshman Austin Peterson.
The Bulldogs have virtually no varsity pitching experience. While optimistic about the staff’s potential, Bruner said the Dogs will follow a pitching-by-committee approach until leaders emerge from a group that includes Usher, Nelson, Olson, Cavanaugh, Benner and sophomore Kyle Englund.
Bruner sees Rochester, Hoquiam and Elma as the league favorites. He will be assisted by Ken Waber, Aaron Cleverly, Pat Papac and Corey Daniels.
In contrast to its East County rival, pitching figures to be Elma’s strength this season. The Eagles return two of their top three hurlers from last year’s 11-9 club, seniors Nick Camenzind and Austin Neary.
“One of the things we’re counting on is the throwing of our two seniors,” Elma coach Scott Rowland said. “Both of them threw pretty well last year.”
The lack of a consistent offense has been Elma’s weak link in recent seasons. Rowland is hoping for improvement in that area, but notes that much of his lineup is untested at the varsity level.
“We have four full-time starters back,” said the veteran Eagle coach. “After that, we are really young. Half the team has no varsity experience, so my concern is lack of varsity game experience.”
Senior catcher Todd Swinhart is one of returning starters. Neary and junior Cole Thornock will split time at first base. Senior Ricky Escalante, who will back up Swinhart behind the plate, will also share the second-base duties with sophomore Karsen Legg and will also see action at shortstop when Camenzind is pitching. Legg and junior Rio Ortega are the candidates at third base.
Elma outfielders include seniors Thomas Hughes and Austin Carrell, junior Seth Osgood and sophomore Tristan Robinette. Ortega and Thornock will also round out the pitching staff.
Rowland projects Hoquiam and Rochester as league co-favorites.
John Tarman, Mike Osgood, Colin McMaster and Josh Cooper will assist Rowland this season.