Greater Spokane League baseball coaches are in agreement.
From top to bottom the league will be balanced.
It’s difficult to imagine it being more so than last year, when four teams - Mead, North Central, Gonzaga Prep and Ferris - were tied for first place with one game left.
It took a replay of a protest to crown Mead and knock Rogers out of the playoffs.
North Side teams will again be in the thick of things.
“Last year I felt like the winner could lose four or five games. and that’s what happened,” said Mead coach Dave Vaughn. “It could again.
“Someone may emerge that wins all the close games, but there’s no one that can’t be beat.”
Like Mead, both Rogers and Shadle Park, fifth in league last year, are veteran teams and could be in the championship hunt.
North Central graduated most of the team that finished a game out of first place. The Indians will be starting over when the GSL season begins on Tuesday.
“I think Mead’s got the most talent,” said NC coach Tim Rypien.
“The thing about this league is there’s no dominant pitcher. That’s not been the case in the past.”
The Panthers return six players, including the entire infield lineup, who were a part of last year’s title team.
“We have new faces in the outfield, but they are very talented and quick,” Vaughn said. “I think we will be pretty solid defensively and will hit.”
The infield is led by shortstop Ray Hattenburg, a third-year starter who has signed with Washington State University and is perhaps the league’s premier player.
Joining him are veterans Larry Carnahan at third base and D.J. Funk at second.
“Larry and D.J. call themselves the fat boys, but they move well for big kids,” said Vaughn.
Jeff Rinck is back at pitcher and first base.
Joining him on the mound will be junior returnee Damian Long, Steve Fish, who was the mainstay of last season’s 20-0 junior varsity, senior left-handers Keat Shankle and Nathan Toelle, and senior righty Pat Wise.
Veteran Sam Chimienti is catcher, backed by junior Nick Gonnella.
In the outfield are junior speedster Adam Morris and Matt Armitage, and seniors Tim Heeter and Steve Pry.
Rounding out the squad are infielders Marcus Muzatko, a junior, and Steve Demus, a senior.
“The challenge will be to keep them happy because we have more than nine starters,” said Vaughn. “The kids have high expectations, but it is not going to come easy.”
Rypien must replace all but a quartet of players from a team that came close to sharing last year’s league title.
“We’re real young and inexperienced,” said Rypien. “Pitching is a question mark. It might be a long one for us.”
In second baseman Steve Sebesta, the Indians have perhaps the best second baseman in the GSL. Twins Jimmy Lake and Jayson Lake are two of the better outfielders, and catcher Jeremy Johnson is experienced.
Beyond them, however, Rypien is looking at four sophomores and nine juniors to complete his roster.
Included are junior pitchers Eric Panza, a right-hander, Nick Hughes, a lefty, and Blaine Wedersphan, and sophomore Jared Starr.
At first base are either junior Travis Hanson or sophomore Justin Williams. Sophomore Ryan Corigliano is battling senior Mike Hulen at shortstop.
Junior Nic Pugliese and senior Chris Bernards are at third base.
If Williams isn’t at first base, he or fellow sophomore Matt Allen will join the Lakes in the outfield.
“We have the best speed out of the four years I’ve been here and can swing the bat,” he said. “Defense is what I’m worried about. We’re filling big holes up the middle.”
Like it has for other teams, rain has prevented Shadle from getting outside as much Coach Ron Brooks would like.
But he’s not upset with the look of his team, most of which returns.
“We have a good core of threeyear lettermen back, and players who love to play the game of baseball,” Brooks said.
The key for the Highlanders, who lost in the first round of the playoffs, is replacing graduated all-league pitcher Jeff Fleming.
The three-year guys are pitcheroutfielder Chris Wilson, shortstop Brett Corigliano, catcher-turnedsecond baseman Christian Ross, outfielder Steve Schaber and firstbaseman Darin Talotti, who returns following a year at North Central.
Other letter-winners are catcher Joe Dunsmoor, outfielder Bill Huldquist, third baseman Aaron Hancock and pitcher Tim Amann.
Wilson is Shadle’s likely ace, joined by Amann and 6-foot-8 basketball all-leaguer Rob DeBeaumont.
“He hasn’t played in a while but is doing a good job,” said Brooks.
Also on the team are junior pitcher Keith Knudsen, backup first baseman Gerritt Wideman, backup third baseman Joe Baun, and outfielders Joe Walters, Jeremy Huston and Matt Liezen.
It’s a smaller squad than Brooks has carried in the past.
“Weather has made getting outside slow right now,” said Brooks, “so offensively we’re behind. Pitching and defense are performing really well for us. The offense will come.”
After a year in Coach Jim Wasem’s program, Rogers players are aware of what he expects. He expects his experienced team to be improved.
“It’s going to be a lot easier for the kids,” he said. “Instead of being tentative, they are gung-ho about the season. I have high hopes.”
As on the Shadle squad, nine players return from last year’s team, several for their third year.
They include pitchers Eric Pearson and Jeff Olsen. They will also play in the outfield, or Olsen may be at first base.
“Pearson will be the workhorse (pitcher), and Olsen did a good job last year,” said Wasem.
Rogers’ staff will be deep. Others include senior transfer Jamie Robison, sophomore Sean Carlson, knuckleballer Mike Kellogg and Matt Berry, whose career has been hampered by injuries.
Berry is part of Rogers’ executive battery. He’s the school’s student body president, and catcher Matt Miethe is vice president. Miethe is also a third-year varsity member.
Third-year shortstop Mike Schock, outfielder Corey Smiley, first baseman Adrian Olson, second baseman Tim Ohmann, third baseman Jon Cox and outfielder Dana Shaw all played last year.
New to the team are senior lefthanded pitcher Robert Hemphill, a 6-foot-2 athlete who hasn’t played since youth ball, outfielders Jeremy Bailey, his twin brother Joe Bailey, and state wrestling placer Mike Knight, a junior.
“We had some heartbreaking losses last year. We’ll be better than that this year,” said Wasem.
“We set our goals high. It’s been a good year all around at Rogers, so the pressure’s on us.”
MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with the story: Coming up Today Softball: North Central hosts Rogers, Mead hosts Ferris, and Shadle Park is at Central Valley, 3:30 p.m. Friday Softball: NC is at Gonzaga Prep, Rogers hosts CV, and Mead is at Shadle Park, 3:30 p.m. Monday Soccer: Mead hosts CV, Rogers hosts NC, 4 p.m.; Shadle Park is at University, 7 p.m. Tuesday Baseball: NC hosts Rogers, Mead hosts Ferris, and Shadle Park is at CV, 3:30 p.m. Softball: Mead is at Gonzaga Prep, 3:30 p.m. Wednesday Soccer: Mead is at University, 7 p.m.