Hawks, Jesuit ready to duel
And Beaverton appears poised for a return to the playoffs too
The 2008 Metro League baseball race will feature two new head coaches and a new league format, but before it's all over, it will likely turn into the same old grind-it-out dogfight it seems to be every year.
This year's race - which will include for the first time best-of-three series between each of the league's six teams - is expected to come down to a battle between two-time defending champ Jesuit and Southridge for bragging rights.
'Jesuit and Southridge are the front-runners now based on their experience,' said Beaverton's first-year coach Matt Smith.
'Jesuit and Southridge are at the top of the league,' agreed Aloha coach Matt Bailie.
For their parts, the Crusaders and Skyhawks both seem content to acknowledge the other as favorite in this year's Metro race.
'I think Jesuit has a little bit of an upper hand with their pitching,' said Southridge coach Don Fitzgerald.
'Southridge may be the team to beat, as far as our opponents go,' said Jesuit coach Don Lovell. 'They'll be tough. They have a pitching staff that rivals ours.'
That said, Beaverton is also favored to make a return to the playoffs after a year's absence, while Westview, Sunset and Aloha will all battle for one of the league's final two playoff berths.
Following are previews of the varsity baseball teams at the six Metro League high schools.
ALOHA - It's a brave new world for Aloha in 2008 where the Warriors try to rebuild after graduating 14 seniors and hope to reach the state playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
'I think we should be able to compete for one of those playoff spots,' said Aloha coach Matt Bailie, who took his team to the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs last year. 'But we don't have a single guy returning offensively.'
Still, the cupboard's not entirely bare for the Warriors. Senior Ryan Roshak (2nd-team all-Metro in '07) is back to lead a pitching staff that also includes starters senior Bryon Clevenger and junior lefty Nate Dolman, and relievers sophomore lefty David Rasmussen, senior lefty Brian Bumbarger, senior Ben Kittleson and junior Eric Kittleson.
'Pitching is probably the strength of our team right now,' Bailie said. 'We throw a lot of strikes with a lot of different pitchers.'
Around the infield, the Warriors will call on both Kittlesons and junior Ben Delmar (who's currently nursing a sore arm) at catcher, junior Petter Overton-Harris at first base, junior Sean Murfin and senior Cody Dickey at second, senior Skylar Card and junior Jacob Lish at shortstop, and Clevenger and Roshak at third.
'Defensively, we're improving every day,' Bailie said. 'Every day we're in the field we're getting better.'
In the outfield, it will be junior Zach Calkins in left, senior Kasey Kroner in center and junior Jordan Gragg in right, with backup help from Dolman, Rasmussen and juniors Kyle Norberg and J.T. Sheehan.
Bailie said that Gragg, Overton-Harris and Clevenger all swing potent bats and should play big roles offensively.
'We just need to get guys on base in front of those three and we'll be OK,' he said.
BEAVERTON - Things are looking up at Beaverton.
After missing the state playoffs in 2007, the Beavers are back with new confidence, a solid pitching staff and a new coach in Matt Smith, a 2000 Beaverton alum who won a state title in 1998 and never missed the playoffs.
'Our expectation is to make the playoffs,' said Smith, a teacher at Beaverton High after playing college baseball at Linfield. 'We expect to get this team back to the playoffs and to be able to compete with the best teams in the state every year.'
The Beavers return one of
the league's best all-around players in senior Ryan Larson (1st-team all-Metro in '07) at shortstop and pitcher, where he'll team with seniors Cal Nagy (honorable mention all-Metro) and Mark Hernandez as starters, with relief help from junior Roman Lorentz, senior Carl Beckert and senior Jordan Severson.
'That's our biggest strength,' Smith said. 'They'll carry us. We feel good about them.'
Junior Taylor Noyer gets the call at catcher, with Hernandez and freshman Jordan Spencer due at first base, senior Marcus Himelhoch and senior Gonzalo Villasmil at second, Larson and Himelhoch at short, and junior Nate Woodbury, Beckert and Lorentz at third.
'We play pretty well defensively,' Smith said. 'We should be pretty good with our pitching and defense.'
Senior Tyler Coronado will start in left, Nagy and Severson will go in center, and Severson and Hernandez will both play in right field, along with senior Kyle Bierwagen. Senior infielder Jackie Coburn is currently nursing a shoulder injury and limited to DH duty, while sophomore Antonio Ruiz will see time in the infield.
Offensively, Smith said, the team will follow the lead of Larson and Himelhoch.
'Larson is kind of our table-setter at leadoff but Himelhoch is probably our best hitter right now,' Smith said. 'If we can just get those guys going, we'll be OK.'
BEAVERTON - The 2007 season did not end the way Jesuit wanted it to.
The two-time defending Metro champions dropped a 9-8 extra-inning decision to eventual state champ North Medford in the Class 6A quarterfinals, but enter 2008 determined to make another run at the Metro crown and state playoffs.
'We have 12 or 13 guys back from last year. We feel like we're a real veteran group that can handle adversity,' said Jesuit coach Don Lovell. 'We've been there the last two years and hope to be there again.'
This year's team will revolve around five returning all-leaguers, including senior center fielder Zane Norris (1st team), senior left fielder Doug Kincaid (1st team), who's currently recovering from a knee injury, senior third baseman/pitcher Cameron Love (1st team), senior shortstop Marshall Yanzick (2nd team) and senior pitcher Alex Keudell (honorable mention).
Joining Love and Keudell in the rotation will be senior Michael Payne and juniors Kyle Cusick, Joe McDonnell and Brenton Spickerman.
'They're really good,' Lovell said of his pitchers. 'We feel we have five guys who can all get good varsity hitters out. We feel real good about those guys.'
In the infield, Jesuit will call on Payne and sophomores Connor Love and Addison Melzer at catcher, sophomore Jacob Wark and McDonnell at first base, Cusick and senior Aidan Milstead at second, Yanzick at short, and Cameron Love and junior Sky Kelley at third.
The outfield will include Kincaid, Norris and junior Austin Cheek in right, with help from McDonnell and sophomore Dylan Jackson. Junior Alex Keenan will pitch and play third when he returns from injury, while senior Jay Bhatia is the team's DH.
'Defense and pitching-wise, which is what wins, we feel we'll be top-notch,' Lovell said. 'Offensively, Norris is … as talented an athlete as there is in our league. With him, Kincaid, Cameron Love and Cheek - those are the guys we'll really count on.'
BEAVERTON - Southridge is on a roll.
After barely squeaking into the 2007 high school playoffs, the Skyhawks played their way into the American Legion AAA state championship game and enter '08 as one of the Metro favorites.
'I feel good about this team,' said Southridge coach Don Fitzgerald. 'If we can get some offense going, I think we'll be pretty good.'
The Skyhawks enter 2008 with seven returning all-leaguers - the most of any Metro team - including senior lefty pitcher Austin Hope (1st team), senior shortstop/third baseman Mitch Edwards (1st team), junior first baseman Mitch Mathews (1st team), senior DH Jack Brock (1st team), and three honorable mention picks, senior pitcher/middle infielder Brendan Goodling, senior third baseman Nate Roshak and junior outfielder Alex Brown.
The pitching staff includes Hope, Edwards, Goodling, senior Mitch Wise and lefties Mathews and Brown.
'It's a good group. It's a senior-led group and they all had experience last year,' Fitzgerald said. 'There's nobody who will dominate, but I think we'll be in every game. I don't think every team can say that.'
Around the infield, it will be Brock at catcher, Mathews at first, Goodling, Wise and senior Billy Trueblood at second, Edwards, Goodling and Wise at short, and Edwards and Roshak at third.
'Defensively, we'll be above average, but because all of our (infielders) pitch, we won't be as steady as we have been,' Fitzgerald said. 'I feel all 14 of our kids are capable of playing anywhere.'
The outfield will include seniors Alex Hope and Brett Myers, Brown, and juniors Kirk Werhane, Kevin Rowles and Garrett Scruggs.
'Edwards is our team leader … and Mathews and Alex Hope are our two most dominant hitters,' Fitzgerald said, adding that he hoped Brock would 'step up and have a big senior year.'
CEDAR MILL - The goal is the same for Sunset as it is every other Metro League team in 2008 - survive and make the playoffs.
The Apollos were a league tiebreaker win from doing so last year and look to correct that this season with a junior-laden lineup.
'In our league, if you can just get the playoffs you can do some damage,' said first-year coach Brian Sullivan, who is back in baseball after coaching Sunset's wrestling team the last five years. 'Get to the playoffs and get some experience for those juniors.'
Sunset will start as many as eight juniors this year led by returning first team all-league infielder Kevin Taylor at shortstop. Taylor will also be the Apollos' closer.
'Kevin's a special player,' Sullivan said. 'He has a real lively bat.'
Junior catcher Kyle Chamberlain protects masher Taylor in the meat of Sunset's order as a gap hitter.
'We have kids that can grip it and rip it,' Sullivan said. 'One through nine, we're pretty strong.'
Returning first team all-league outfielder Daniel Manus, a senior, sets the table for the Apollos as a speedy leadoff hitter and 'can really run it down' in centerfield, according to Sullivan.
Manus, a lefty, is also part of a trio of pitchers Sunset will likely use to start its Metro series with lefthander Alex LaFollette and fellow junior RJ Hoffman, a righthander.
'We don't have a No. 1,' Sullivan said. 'More like three No. 2s. They'll throw strikes and need to get ahead (in the count).'
Sunset's infield includes junior David Hosmar at third, Taylor at short, senior Steve Caster at first and either junior Alan Willes or Nick Olney at second. Senior Billy Cole and junior Ryan Kroon are vying for time in left field while junior Michael Duggan is in right.
ROCK CREEK - Westview put together an impressive run in 2007 to reach the state championship as the Metro's No. 3 seed. The trick for second-year coach Steve Antich will be to maintain that momentum, albeit without four graduated first team all-Metro players, including two pitchers.
'We did turn over a lot of guys, in particular our pitching staff,' Antich said. 'We certainly don't go into a season expecting less than the playoffs. We're going to have to do the little things to make that happen.'
That means some small ball, a clean defense, a pitching staff that doesn't hurt itself and plenty of competition to find out who can do that.
'At this point, we're giving guys opportunities and see what happens,' Antich said. 'We can be in the mix, but we can't rely on pitchers getting shutouts or guys hitting home runs.'
Locked in at third base and the heart of the Wildcats' order is senior Chris Evola, a second team all-league infielder last year.
'We need him to have another great year and solidify the center of our lineup,' Antich said.
Senior Kyle Larson returns at shortstop. Junior Erick Podwill fractured his shoulder blade and is out a couple weeks, giving seniors Joe Belding and Ricky Egger time at second. Senior Ryan Creitz is at first base and 'will protect Evola in the lineup,' according to Antich, while junior Robert Maskosky fills in at DH and first.
Senior center fielder Spencer Arns is Westview's leadoff hitter. Joining him in the outfield will be seniors Roger Boulden and Jake Derrah, junior Casey Kasai, Belding and Egger.
Senior Pat Coghlan suffered an injury during football season, keeping him from catching this spring. Junior Kevin Cech moves behind the dish from outfield.
Cech will handle a pitching staff that will likely be led by lefthanders Andrew Reese, a senior, junior Aaron Luken, and sophomore Zack Reser. Evola, Larson, Creitz and junior Jeff White are also contending for mound time.