We’re a week away from the first day of spring and it’s wet, windy and cold. So that can mean only one thing: high school baseball begins this week. Don Mann takes a preview look at the Northshore schools, which should once again battle it out for KingCo Crown division top honors in 2011 with hopes for a state tournament berth. All three teams have two things in common:
• 1. Inexperience at the critical catcher spot, and
• 2. Nothing yet is set in stone, according to the coaches.
But here’s the skinny as best can be deciphered, in alphabetical order.
The Cougars return nine seniors from a squad that finished 17-8 (10-6) and came one game from playing at state, though pitcher Jordan Kynaston is still rehabilitating a shoulder injury — on his throwing arm — he suffered in football and is unavailable as the season begins.
Coach Paul Moody, in his 13th year at Bothell (28th in KingCo overall), will look to Brian McAfee, Kevin McShane and Henry Baillargeon to pick up the slack on the mound. McAfee went 4-3 last year and had a monster year at the plate: a .469 batting average with six home runs and 28 RBI to earn first-team All-KingCo honors.
McShane, the crafty southpaw and another two-year starter, will again play first base when he doesn’t toe the rubber. Baillargeon pitched in a relief role but will get some starts in 2011.
"He was actually our lowest ERA guy last year and he improved over the summer so we’re expecting more out of him," Moody said.
Veteran Eric Gregory and newcomers Rex Carlin and Brady Mickelson will likely be looking at innings on the bump.
The infield appears set with Jon Mercer (.294, 20 hits) returning at shortstop and Mitchell Viydo back at second base. Dain Gilbert, who played part-time as a junior, has the inside track at third.
Things are less clear in the outfield, where only Ryan Morgan (.303, 23 hits) returns as a starter. Moody said Brad Monson, who subbed on varsity last year, has a strong chance to gain a starting role but the last spot is still up for grabs.
"Gregory, Carlin, Zach Farmer and Nick Gray are all in the mix but we don’t know yet," he said.
The biggest question mark remains behind the plate, where senior Jordan Johnson and sophomore Samuel Lee, both untested at the varsity level, are competing for time. "They’re both coming around nicely and battling for that spot, but we just don’t know yet," Moody said.
Fourth-year coach Bryan McNaghten returns two first-team all-leaguers at shortstop Mitch Gunsolus (.369 with 24 hits, 31 runs scored) and third-baseman Peter Meiusi (.300, 19 RBI); three stud senior pitchers in Obie Taylor (12-3 in the last two seasons), Dustin Doucette (47 strikeouts in 27 innings last year) and long, lanky lefty Emmitt Maki, who just gets guys out, but still he worries.
The Vikings buzzed through the division last year with a 14-2 record, but lost two of its last three — the last one to Bothell in the KingCo tourney — when it counted most to finish 18-5 overall.
"It’s about playing well at the end and we didn’t," he said.
But 2011 is a brand new can of peaches, and McNaghten might mix it up.
Garrett Vandiver, who played outfield last year and hit .300, may play second base. Meiusi, who played third but runs and throws and catches well, may become an outfielder. Much depends on Alex Morrow, who has infield skills, pitches and is now injury-free.
"All these guys are multi-talented seniors and can play different positions," McNaghten said. "A lot depends on whether the younger guys can fill some spots."
The catcher position remains in limbo, as seniors Adam Mosebar and Blake Wilson — a former outfielder — compete for time, with junior Perry Pipkin pushing them both. "They’re both great kids," McNaghten said. "Mosebar’s bigger and stronger but Wilson is a great athlete. So we’ll see what happens there."
Look for senior Connor Savage to play center field and bat leadoff, with Taylor sharing time at first base with Maki when they’re not pitching.
So why is McNaghten worried? "There are just so many unknowns."
"Our senior class is kind of small, but our junior class is a good class," Coach Terry Agnew said, and he’s been around long enough to know. Falcon seniors include third-baseman Sean Sellers, second team All-KingCo last year, along with outfielders Ryland Longoni and Carl Svanevik.
"There’s probably 13 or 14 good baseball players in that junior class," said Agnew, who tosses compliments infrequently.
Jeff Wyner, the highly regarded outfielder, pitcher and batter, will not be one of them as he injured his knee playing pickup basketball and is done for his junior year. "That was a big hit," Agnew said.
But much talent remains for Woodinville, 12-10 last year overall (8-8), losing seven of its final eight in 2010.
It begins with shortstop Shea Donlin, who batted .338 with 23 hits as a sophomore on varsity, and includes second-baseman Beau Vintertun, pitchers Spencer Greer and Marty Luckenbach — all of whom have performed at a high level in summer ball.
Agnew was reluctant to round out his potential starting squad — nothing is set in stone — but it may include Myles Franklin at first base, though Caleb Hamilton, he said, is pushing the envelope at all four infield positions. "He’s a really good player and he’s putting pressure on all those guys."
T.C. Florentine, who produced as a sophomore, may have the inside track to the available outfield position, though he may be chased by Branden Shrout.
Meanwhile, Cody Bauman competes for innings on the mound, along with senior Kalei Kover and Agnew said Donlin might pitch some because of Wyner’s injury.
The question remains: Who will catch? "Clark Bader and Doug Sullivan are returning varsity players but Eric Anthony, a sophomore, is a good player, too," Agnew said. "Those three are vying for playing time and it’s hard to tell at this point who’s gonna be the No. 1 guy."
So much depends on the backstop in high school baseball, where balls that get away lead to runs scored and, ultimately, games lost.
"Our conference is really good," Agnew said. "There aren’t too many teams that don’t play well and there are no easy games out there."