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Arms race

The Metro League is pitching rich and ready to challenge the state's best
by: Miles Vance BRING IT — Southridge senior Jace Fry is one of the Metro League’s — and state’s — best pitchers, and he hopes to lead his team to a long state playoff run in 2011.

Armed and ready.

Well-armed.

Nothing better describes the Metro League as it prepares for the 2011 season, a year that will see some of the best pitching - from top to bottom - in a very, very long time.

Westview leads the way with its talented troika of Sam Johnson, Carson Kelly and Phil Belding. Beaverton answers with Myles Richard, Jordan Spencer and Jeremy Lipps. Southridge will throw out Jace Fry and Jake Azevedo, and Jesuit will call on John Rizzo and Quinn McLafferty. Further, Sunset's got Jon Bjorklund and more, and Aloha has Spencer Maxey and more too.

It should make for a bundle of competitive, and short, games.

'Pitching-wise, (Westview is) deep, and Southridge is tough too,' said Beaverton coach Derek Nekoba. 'But I think every single team in this league is in the mix.'

'I believe the league is one of the toughest in the state this year,' said Southridge coach Don Fitzgerald. 'The top four teams have great pitching.'

'Westview has to be the favorite,' said Sunset coach Brian Sullivan. 'Their pitching rotation is the top in the state.'

Westview, the 2010 co-champion (with Beaverton), is indeed the favorite after its solid spring, blistering summer, and its surfeit of talent.

But as good as Westview is, its edge is only nominal in the deep and talented Metro. Beaverton looks ready to challenge yet again, Southridge seems poised for a breakthrough, Jesuit returns a ton of talent and two good arms at the top of its rotation, and Sunset features two of the league's best players in Mike Umscheid and Bjorklund.

'It sounds as if three of the best in the state are in the Metro League,' said Jesuit coach Tim Massey.

I think it will be 'Westview, then Beaverton, then Southridge, Jesuit, Sunset and Aloha,' Fitzgerald said.

It's 'a three-horse race between Westview, Southridge, and Beaverton,' Sullivan added.

Following are previews of the Metro League's varsity baseball teams.

ALOHA

ALOHA - The 2011 Aloha Warriors know they're going to have to step up.

Aloha, led by first-year head coach John Dunn, brings back all-leaguers in senior infielder/pitcher Spencer Maxey and senior catcher Brock Hemphill, as well as senior starters Caylen Clardy and Cameron Richards, but knows that its varsity newcomers will also need to play big roles if the team hopes to compete.

'We have a strong sophomore class and four very good freshmen (but) we only won one or two league games last year,' said Dunn, who was most recently the pitching coach at Lewis and Clark for four years, and previously served as head coach for the Northwest Star Baseball Academy Collegiate Team, and as head coach at Lake Oswego. 'We are in a rebuilding mode.'

Maxey is back after earning first-team all-Metro honors in the infield, Hemphill (a second-teamer in the outfield in '10) will go at catcher, Clardy will play second base and shortstop, and Richards will pitch and play in the outfield.

The team's other expected major contributors will be junior Francis Becraft at pitcher and outfield, sophomore CJ Eytel at pitcher, first base and outfield, junior Sean Lechleiter in left field, and sophomore Ray Ayo in the outfield, at second base and at pitcher.

The pitching rotation will be led by Maxey, Richards and Hemphill.

'Spencer's effectiveness is based on his high baseball IQ, coupled with his multi-angled release points that create deception,' Dunn said. 'Cameron Richards is a veteran righthander who uses a variety of pitches to get his outs, (and) Brock Hemphill is a flame thrower.'

The varsity roster will also include sophomore first baseman/pitcher Micah Clardy, senior outfielder Brandon Hasson, sophomore outfielder/pitcher Cooper Nagy, junior third baseman/first baseman Nick Overton-Harris, and freshmen Richard Belog, Nate Christopherson, Nick Christopherson and Joseph Romero.

BEAVERTON

BEAVERTON - Beaverton came through big-time in 2010, winning a share of its first Metro League title since 2000.

Now, the Beavers want more.

Armed with a first-team all-league pitcher and the reigning Player of the Year - not to mention two more all-leaguers - the Beavers feel they'll have a shot at just that, though they know there's work ahead in replacing two infielders and its entire starting outfield.

'We hope to compete and contend, but it will be a grind,' said Beaverton coach Derek Nekoba. 'We are not good enough to think that we can take an inning off, a game off or a week off. If we do, we will get it handed to us pretty good.'

Still, the Beavers' leaders are pretty darned good, that group led by 2010 Player of the Year Jordan Spencer, a senior first baseman and pitcher, and by senior pitcher Myles Richard, a first-team all-leaguer from 2010.

With Spencer, it's 'everything. His work ethic. He's defensively solid at first. His pitching. And offensively, he utilizes the entire field,' Nekoba said, adding that Richard excels at 'pitching, and offensively, he's a quality bat. He's worked on using entire field and his speed.'

There's more talent too, including senior shortstop Will Taylor and senior pitcher Jeremy Lipps - both second-team all-leaguers a year ago. Also back with experience are senior third baseman Nate Henderson, senior center fielder/pitcher Alex Cornwell (who returns to the lineup after missing 2010 with a knee injury), senior catcher Mitch Harbolt, and junior third baseman/pitcher/outfielder Mitch Allen.

The pitching rotation will be led by Richard, Lipps and Spencer, as well as by Allen and Cornwell.

New to the varsity lineup this year are junior outfielder Brandon Cornwell, senior outfielder Billy Mays, senior outfielder Cameron Kerkar, senior second baseman Kyle Gunhus, senior outfielder Brooks Hamaker, senior second baseman Jack Lawrence, and junior second baseman Tucker Spooner.

JESUIT

BEAVERTON - Jesuit was right there with the Metro League's best last year, battling down to the final week before finally falling short of winning a league championship.

And the Crusaders - led this year by new head coach Tim Massey - hope to be right there again. But they know it won't be easy.

This year's version of the Crusaders will be led by seniors John Rizzo and Quinn McLafferty, both first-team all-Metro League selections a year ago - Rizzo at pitcher and McLafferty in the infield. But Jesuit also graduated four first-teamers, and knows it will need some former role players to step into leadership spots, and some newcomers to prove their varsity ability.

Everything's 'pretty iffy until after' the non-league schedule Massey said of his team's prospects for 2011. But 'we hope to be competitive and continue improving throughout the year.'

Rizzo and McLafferty - They bring 'experience, great attitude, exceptional leadership, and some talent,' Massey said - will lead the Crusader pitching staff, joined in the starting rotation by senior Will Schwartz, and relieved by seniors Blake Evetts and Riley Heath, juniors Tony Albanese, Peter Davis, Peter Dempsey, Robert Strys and Beau Ueland, sophomore Matt Decker and freshman Bradley Gaman.

Around the infield, Jesuit will call on Decker at catcher, Rizzo and Gaman at first, Dempsey at second, McLafferty and Evetts at shortstop, and sophomore Buddy Webb and Evetts at third. Also due for time are senior Tyler Breault at second, senior Paul Fitzpatrick at catcher, senior Jake Kincaid at second and short, senior Luke Rafter at catcher and third, Schwartz at first and third, Albanese and Davis at third, junior Keenan Hatfield at second, third and short, junior Patrick Roy at infield and catcher, and Decker at third.

Heath, junior Harrison Bruce, and Strys will lead the way in the outfield, with backup help from seniors Chris Mueller and Rafter, Fitzpatrick, Kincaid, Albanese, Davis, Strys and Ueland.

SOUTHRIDGE

BEAVERTON - Southridge had higher hopes for its 2010 Metro League season than the 4-11 fifth-place finish it ended up with last year.

While 2010 is history, there's good reason to believe the Skyhawks will get their wish in 2011. This year's team is led by senior left-handed pitcher Jace Fry - a first-team all-Metro pick a year ago - and additional all-leaguers in seniors John Richter, Jake Azevedo and Blake Montague.

'We hope to turn things around this year and think we have a chance at one of the top three spots,' said Southridge coach Don Fitzgerald. 'All of our seniors have a winning attitude and are hard workers.'

Fry will lead the way at pitcher, and will also see time in the outfield and at first base. Richter is back in center field after earning second-team honors a year ago, while Azevedo and Montague were both honorable mention picks, Azevedo at pitcher and Montague at shortstop.

Around the rest of the infield, junior Toma Matisoff will see time at catcher along with Azevedo, seniors Ryan Howard and Tyler Kluempke. Sophomores Chandler Whitney and Reza Aleaziz are battling for the first base job, senior Nick Rupp and junior Bryan Domogalla will both play second, and junior Corey Pool and senior Kevin Fajardo will be at third.

Joining Richter in the outfield will be seniors Derek Keller, Trent Calmer, Andrew Fitzgerald and Corey Ross, and Fry, Pool and junior Luke Merkel.

It all comes down to 'senior dedication and leadership, on and off the field,' Fitzgerald said.

Also due to see time on the mound for Southridge are Aleaziz, Domogalla, Pool, Rupp, Ross, Whitney, Howard, Merkel and Fajardo, though Fitzgerald said their order of appearance is far from yet determined.

SUNSET

CEDAR MILL - Sunset knows that it's a dark horse this year.

And the Apollos are OK with that.

Sunset rolls into the 2011 Metro League season with two of the league's best players back in senior shortstop Mike Umscheid and senior first baseman Jon Bjorklund - both were first-team all-leaguers a year ago - a five-deep pitching staff, and the belief that it can compete with any team in the powerful Metro.

'We like our team,' said Sunset coach Brian Sullivan. 'We have a deep pitching staff and we'll be strong defensively.'

Bjorklund will also lead the Apollos' talented pitching staff, followed by senior Mychal Cornilles, senior Josh Makler (a second-teamer in '10), senior Vince Rodas and junior Zane Bambusch.

Around the rest of the infield, Sunset will call on junior Danny Yazzolino at catcher, Bjorklund at first, junior Cam Russ (another second-team all-leaguer) at second, Umscheid at short, and senior Dylan Johnson and Bambusch at third.

In the outfield, Sunset will look to Makler, junior Ryan Carter, junior Austin Hempy, Bambusch and Rodas. Also due for playing time are sophomore infielder/pitcher Dylan Hollister, senior outfielder /pitcher Michael Silvey, junior outfielder/pitcher Eli Stokes, and junior catcher Jalen Miller.

That said, this is Bjorklund and Umscheid's team.

'Jon Bjorklund and Michael Umscheid are our team leaders,' Sullivan said. 'They have the most experience, and we look to them to get our team going.'

Key to the Apollos' success this year likely be how well the team swings the bats and balances out its solid pitching and defense.

'We may struggle offensively, especially with the quality of pitching in the Metro,' Sullivan added. 'We will probably have to play some pressure baseball to score some runs.'

WESTVIEW

ROCK CREEK - Momentum.

You want it? Westview's got it.

The Wildcats enter the 2011 season on the heels of two straight Metro League championships, a summer season that saw the team go 39-1-1 and win a title, and armed with a pitching staff that is the envy of the rest of the state.

But Westview's players and coaches also enter 2011 knowing that, despite appearances and expectations, they have yet to achieve their ultimate goal - a Class 6A state championship.

'We worry about it. We talk about it. We talk about embracing' expectations, said Wildcats coach Steve Antich. 'But you've still got to make your own breaks and get some luck. We might not even win our own league, much less state.'

Still, Westview is loaded, beginning with senior flamethrower Sam Johnson, the two-time reigning Metro Pitcher of the Year, and junior Carson Kelly, a first-team all-Metro pick at first base a year ago and another of the league's premier hurlers.

'When he's on, he can be a guy that dominates,' Antich said of Johnson. 'It relaxes the team to know you'll have a chance no matter who the other team throws.'

Kelly, meanwhile, has 'looked great,' Antich said. 'His velocity has continued to develop, and he has command of three pitches.'

Hard-throwing senior Phil Belding, and seniors Tyler Kotchik, Paul Gorman and Nate McGuire round out Westview's envied pitching staff.

Around the infield, junior CJ Garcia and sophomore Kyle Henderson will go at catcher, Johnson and Gorman will play first base, senior Donnie Bradley will play second and shortstop, Kelly will play short when he's not pitching, and sophomore Shane Suyama, Gorman and Henderson will see time at third.

Senior Ryan Susnow will be the team's designated hitter, while in the outfield, Belding will play center, flanked by senior Tate Glasgow, senior Kyle Harris, and McGuire.

'The summer we had was because some of the younger guys and they way they stepped up,' Antich said. 'On paper, we have the talent. Now, it's up to us to maximize that and go as far as we can.'

Also due for varsity time this year are junior pitcher/infielder Kyle Schaller, sophomore pitcher/infielder Cole Steerman, junior pitcher/infielder Yota Ishii, and junior pitcher/infielder Shane Song.