Timberwolves are ready to roar again

Baseball: Despite graduating some key players, Tualatin is aiming high in 2011
by: DAN BROOD AUSTIN THE ACE — Tualatin High School senior Austin Richmond takes over as the Wolves’ ace. He threw a no-hitter last year and already has one this season.

TUALATIN - Mark Lambson - gone.

Brandon Snyder - gone.

Conner George - also gone.

The three former Tualatin High School baseball standouts, and cornerstones of the strong Timberwolf tradition, are now playing collegiate baseball at the Division I level.

Other talented Timberwolf mainstays have also graduated and moved on.

But don't feel bad for the current Tualatin team - don't shed a single tear.

The Timberwolves should be just fine.

'I think we'll be pretty good,' Tualatin coach Matt Unis said. 'We've got some guys back, but it's a new team with their own identity. We've got some strong seniors and good juniors.'

Among the seniors Tualatin will be heavily counting on this year will be Austin Richmond, who takes over the role as the Timberwolves' ace pitcher.

'He's going to be great for us,' Unis said of the left-handed Richmond. 'Last year, he was real good. But he probably won't be under the radar this year.'

Last year, pitching behind Lambson and Snyder in the Tualatin rotation, Richmond earned second-team all-league honors while helping the Wolves go 26-4 on the season and 14-1 in Pacific Conference play. Among his victories a year ago was a no-hit performance against McMinnville.

When he's not pitching, Richmond will likely be playing at first base for the Wolves. He's also expected to be a big part of the offensive attack.

'I think he's going to have a breakout year with the bat,' Unis said.

Other pitchers for Tualatin include senior Michael Poach and juniors Travis Johnson, Nathan Suyematsu and Nick Bland - all right-handers.

'They all throw strikes,' Unis said. 'Those are four guys that we're kind of waiting to see how they do.'

Tualatin has another proven veteran behind the plate in senior catcher Taylor Johnson, who was a first-team all-Pacific Conference selection last year.

'He gives us strong leadership behind the plate,' Unis said.

Tualatin's infield will be anchored by senior Corey VanDomelen. Last year, VanDomelen earned first-team all-league honors while playing at third base for the Wolves. He moves to second base this year.

'He's the captain of the infield,' Unis said. 'He's a leader and brings a lot of energy.'

Suyematsu will start at shortstop and Travis Johnson will be at third base.

Junior Matt Miller will also play at third base and shortstop while senior Adam Hegstrom will also see action in the infield.

Bland will likely be at first base when Richmond is on the mound.

The Timberwolf outfield will feature senior Kevin O'Connor in center field.

'He's going to be one of our main hitters,' Unis said. 'And he's strong on defense and gives us good leadership in the outfield.'

Senior returnee Rick Bettinelli will be in left field.

'He's also going to be one of our main hitters,' Unis said.

Junior Brandon Durdel and sophomore Andrew Schlottmann are in the mix for the right-field spot.

Senior Austin Angle should see action at designated hitter.

Other players on the Tualatin varsity roster include sophomore infielder Jon Fishback, sophomore pitcher/outfielder Connor Scott, freshman outfielder/pitcher Cooper Brunner and junior infielder Gunnar Gustafson.

Unis sees this team as a group ready to battle.

'These kids are very competitive and I think we're evenly spread across the board,' he said. 'These kids love baseball and they're pretty tough and hard-nosed.'

As for the Pacific Conference, the league will have a different look this year. Century, Glencoe and Hillsboro are new to the league while Canby has left for the Three Rivers League.

'We'll miss Canby,' Unis said. 'But the new teams are good. Glencoe will be tough. I think this is anybody's league to take this year. I think we'll compete to be on top.'

Tualatin, and Richmond, got the Timberwolf season started in spectacular fashion last Thursday. Richmond opened his senior season on the mound by throwing a no-hitter in a 7-0 win over South Medford in a game played at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford.

Richmond struck out six and walked just one, coming with two outs in the bottom of the first inning, on his way to getting the no-hitter.

Travis Johnson led the offense by going 3-for-3 at the plate with three runs scored. O'Connor went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored.

Tualatin, which played in a tournament in California over Spring Break, will be back in action Tuesday when it hosts Hillsboro in a league opener starting at 5 p.m.