WAPITI LEAGUE BASEBALL BEGINS THIS WEEKEND
The Joseph baseball boys lost six seniors off last year's team that went 9-1 in the Wapiti League and 20-6 overall, tying for first place in the league. It will be tough for the Eagles to repeat last year's success.
"We're down this year," said coach Dave Schmidt.
There's still three veteran seniors on the squad pitcher and second baseman Ryan Barstad; shortstop, third baseman and pitcher Pat Lynn; and center fielder and pitcher Chris Garrett.
Schmidt said the team's top pitcher will be Dustin Gibbs, who had two solid efforts on the mound to open up this season. Gibbs will also catch and play first base.
Sophomore Justin Bird will also be one of the team's top pitchers. Bird has already won a game for the varsity Eagles.
John Schmidt will play third base and will do some pitching. Andy Hayes will play left field, while Kirk Borgerding will handle some of the catching duties.
A couple of sophomores should see some playing time. Tanner Stewart can play nearly anywhere and should see time in right field, at first and behind the plate. Mike Gamboa will play in the outfield.
Elgin baseball coach Gordie Simons said his team is so young and inexperienced, he has a sophomore and a freshman on his team who not only have never played high school ball before they've never played organized ball, period.
"They never even played catch," he said.
In all seriousness, Elgin doesn't have any seniors on a team that made it to state last year. The Huskies have gotten off to a nice start with two preseason wins against Prairie City and the Mac-Hi junior varsity.
Simons knows that if Elgin wants to make it into the postseason, the Huskies have a ways to go yet, however. With all the new players, Simons will be trying kids at a lot of new and different positions, looking for defensive combinations that work.
"They have a lot of talent. They're going to have to step up and leave it all on the field," Simons said.
A couple of the veterans back on the team are pitcher, catcher and first basemen Blake Eckstein and pitcher, catcher and shortstop Codi Burgess.
Eckstein already has four RBIs this young season, while Burgess has already hit a home run.
Also on the squad are first baseman Ricky Foster, second baseman, outfielder and pitcher Chad McDonald, pitcher, second baseman and third baseman Skyler Payne, outfielder and third baseman Eddie Diaz, outfielder and catcher Charlie Schumacher, second baseman Ryan McCrae, and freshmen Rian Thompson (outfield/infield) and Kelby Witherspoon (outfield/infield).
Imbler is a second-year program funded through fundraisers and volunteer coaches.
The Panthers won three games last year in their inaugural season their first year of high school baseball in more than 30 years. This year will be a challenge as Imbler has just 10 players on its team.
"We'll be fine as long as everyone stays healthy," said Grant Crow, who is coaching the team along with Monty McIntosh.
Crow said the team's ace will be sophomore Jeff Smith. Smith will also play some third base.
The only senior on the team is Zach Myers, who will catch and roam the outfield.
Travis Hoskins will play first base and do some pitching while super-athlete soph Tanner McIntosh, the player of the year for Wapiti League basketball, will will play shortstop and do some pitching.
Alan O'Donald will play outfield, while Trevor Crow will play shortstop and pitcher.
Chris Miller will patrol first and second base and the outfield, while Justin Volle will play outfield, and John McKinnis will play third and outfield. Jo Jo Harder is a first-year player who will see some time in the outfield.
Crow said the team is building. While the Panthers neither have a lot of experience nor are very deep, their youngsters do have a lot of talent.
"Next year, we'll be stronger," he said.
Imbler begins its league season Saturday on the road against Union.
The Union baseball team has not picked up a win so far, but coach Greg Poor is confident the Bobcats will improve as the season moves along.
"We're still in the process of determining lineups," he said. "This will definitely be a re-building year."
The Bobcats return second-team all-Wapiti league first baseman junior Matt Fiorito and senior John Dodds, who will play third base and pitch.
"I'm excited," Poor said. "This is a great group of kids. They work hard. "They have fantastic attitudes. Everyone is getting along real well."
The Bobcats lost two starting pitchers from last year's team. Poor said the strength of the Bobcats is defense. He has liked the play of the infielders.
On the Bobcats' roster are senior outfielder Kevin Gallaway; juniors outfielder Brian Kausler, second baseman Willie Duncan, outfielder/utility Dan Blair, pitcher/infield Mitchel Seal; sophomores infielder Chris Poe (out recovering from a broken collarbone); and freshmen shortstop/catcher Chris Nay, left fielder/pitcher Reese Christensen, designated hitter/back-up first baseman Jarrid Magee, pitcher/catcher/shortstop Shane Williams, center fielder/pitcher Gavin Watson, outfielder Hoss Haney and outfielder/second baseman Kasey Towne.
Coach Poor said the league is extremely tough with Grant Union coming down from the 3A level, and he sees the Bobcats battling for a district tournament spot.
"This year's team will be a completely different team than last year," he said.
"Last year, we had a few older kids hitting the ball real well," he said. "This year, we don't have experience at the plate; we gain a little bit of speed."