Both University and Central Valley hung around the lower end of Greater Spokane League baseball last season until the Titans made a late-season dash into the playoffs.
This year both teams should be improved and U-Hi could even be a title contender in a league where there is no clear-cut favorite.
“We have a chance,” said Titan coach Don Ressa. “People think we could win the title but that’s tough. Everyone throws No. 1 (pitcher) at you.”
Central Valley’s problem last year was a lack of consistent pitching. That will likely change this season and coach Ed Garcia likes what he sees about his team.
“The strongest suit has been their attitude,” he said. “Collectively they work as hard as any team I’ve had in a long time.”
To date, practice time has been limited because of rain but the teams must be ready for Greater Spokane League competition which begins next Tuesday.
The primary reason last year’s sixth-place league finisher is rated a GSL co-favorite is that everyone is back.
Several other teams can say that as well.
However, in catcher Scott Asan, already signed for Gonzaga University, the Titans have one of the league’s premier players.
He’ll be on the receiving end of a pitching staff that is the league’s deepest.
Returnees are seniors Andy Furlott, Bryan Harkey, John Sims, Brandon Svelmoe and junior Nick Spunich.
“They spent all winter running and lifting and have come into the season in good physical condition,” said Ressa.
Svelmoe will be at first base, backed by junior David Sander. Third-year starter Aaron Moe holds down third base, backed by junior Brad Nollmeyer.
The middle infield also returns, junior shortstop Chris Kreider and senior second baseman Kevin May.
“Kevin is probably the captain of the infield and Chris is bigger, stronger and a much better player than a year ago,” said Ressa.
The outfield is a four-or-five person battle that features last year’s hitting leader, Ben Butler, veterans Mike Bartlett and Nate Brown, 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior Mike Roberge, speedy junior Joe Jeffries and the muchimproved David Stark.
“He’s probably the most pleasant surprise,” said Ressa. “David will be in center field which fills a big void for us.”
This is a bigger roster than U-Hi has carried in the past. It is senior-oriented and, said Ressa, has the ingredients for success, emotional maturity and experience.
“We’ll be OK,” he said. “This team is unique. It does everything with a purpose. It will be a matter of how we deal with adversity. If we do, we’ll be really competitive.”
Last summer CV discovered a cure for its pitching woes when Monte Morgan and R.J. Del Mese nearly double-handedly hurled the Bears into the American Legion playoffs.
Third-year varsity player Morgan and junior Del Mese will likely carry the load for the Bears.
“Potentially we have a good staff,” said former pitcher Garcia, who knows the position. “We have good depth. They are not guys who will blow people way, but they throw strikes.”
Backing the two obvious candidates are juniors Corby Schuh, a lefty, Dave Frank, whose brother Paul hurled CV into the playoffs not many years ago, and Brady Nelson. Another possibility is sophomore Eric Eigenhuis.
Garcia’s biggest concern was behind the dish where two experienced catchers graduated. But in Florida transfer Tony Paventy who offered to give it a try, and junior Todd Sears, his fears have been eased.
In the infield, Jason Buckenberger and Schuh are at first base. Veterans Jeremy Nesbitt and Ryan Clancy are at second. Del Mese and Morgan will alternate at third. Juniors Nate Lynch and Andrew Larson take over at shortstop.
Outfielders include seniors Spyder Chapman, Mike Richmond, Ryan Graczyk and juniors Rich Chance and Nelson.
“If two kids are equal, if they are hitting the ball I will put them where I need them,” said Garcia of this year’s team.
Defense, he said, will be solid up the middle and good at the corners. Hitting is a question mark.
“Last year was a tough year because we lost a lot of close games,” said Garcia. “Good teams win those and we didn’t do it.”
He’s banking that CV, with nine players carrying 3.5 or higher grade point averages, will change that.
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