by: VERN UYETAKE Zach Shuholm is one of a handful of solid returning pitchers for the West Linn baseball team.

Over the past handful of seasons, the West Linn baseball team has been one of the most consistent in the state. And the Lions figure to field another very strong squad again this year and one that should vie for the league title in a Three Rivers League that has gotten even more competitive.

The Lions return No. 1 starter Riley Wilkerson fresh off a trip to the state tournament with the basketball team. Wilkerson has already committed to play for Oregon State University next year and should be among the state's elite hurlers again this year.

'He's a returning first-team all-league guy and we're going to lean on him heavily. He's definitely one of the top four pitchers in the state,' coach Mike Lord said.

Behind Wilkerson West Linn has depth. Zach Shulholm, Warner Edwards and James Coghill will all see plenty of time on the mound this year either as starters or coming out of the bullpen.

'Our pitching is pretty solid. We had a number of guys have really good summers and position themselves for this year,' Lord said.

West Linn's line-up is also strong this year with a healthy dose of returning starters and newcomers.

D.J. Clark returns at catcher for the Lions while Coghill and Jordan Porter will man first base.

Up the middle will be Kevin Kawasaki, Wilkerson and Taylor Flores while Mitch Hoveke will return to occupy third base this year.

The outfield will be anchored by Andrew Yokubaitis with Ben Trussell, Mitch Vogt, Spencer Cook and Nick Hysell also seeing plenty of playing time.

The Lions have a number of batters in the line-up with power, particularly Coghill, Porter and Wilkerson.

'I think we'll be better than we were last year. We can definitely hit the ball better,' Lord said.

Trussell, Yokubaitis and Wilkerson all have plenty of speed as well and should be dangerous on the base paths.

This year, with playing in a smaller league, the Lions will have 10 preseason games before getting into league play. And West Linn will be seeing some of top teams in the state to get prepared.

'I think our strength of schedule could be No. 1 in the state or close to it and that's fine with me. We make our schedule tough on purpose,' Lord said.

The schedule won't get much easier once league begins.

There is not a single weak link in the TRL this season and every game and every series will be crucially important.

'There are no gimmes anywhere. It's a more balanced league than it's been in years,' Lord said.

West Linn figures to battle with Lake Oswego for the league title while Clackamas should still be strong even with the departure of Ben Wetzler. Oregon City and Lakeridge are also much improved and Canby enters the league with a solid reputation.

Meanwhile, the Lions will look to continue to improve with the hopes of making another deep postseason run this spring.

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