Tim Brandle has a complaint for the folks who scheduled this weekend’s state American Legion baseball tournaments.
Brandle, who coaches defending state champion University in the State A Legion tournament this weekend at U-Hi, sends his Titans out to battle the team from Franklin Pierce in the second game of the 2:30 p.m. doubleheader today. That’s the same approximate time the U-Hi senior team, the Bandits, plays its tournament opener in Tacoma.
“The first team I coached was the U-Hi A2 team, and that team was the last A2 team to make it to state,” Brandle said. “Most of the players I had on that team are now playing on the Bandits. I wish there was someone I could talk to about moving one of those games. I’d love to be there to watch them play.”
Brandle’s Titans will have their hands full with their own game without worrying about how the Bandits fare in Tacoma, or how their AA Legion team fares in Kennewick for that matter. Three of the four University Legion teams qualified for state.
“This is a good time for baseball in the Spokane Valley, that’s for sure,” Brandle said. “The two best programs by far have been U-Hi and Central Valley. It’s been that way for a while, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way for a long time.
“Most of the players on our AA team this year played on this team last year. Our future looks awfully bright.”
Central Valley, coached by Mike Amend, opens the State A tournament against Moses Lake in the morning doubleheader, with the first pitch scheduled for 9 a.m.
Brandle and the host Titans are confident heading into the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.
“Most teams go into a tournament like this ready to throw their ace pitcher in the opener and after that, it’s a scramble,” Brandle said. “I don’t have to do that. I have four aces. Every single game I’ll be able to send a pitcher out there who has stuff that is dominating.”
Left-hander Kramer LaVoie, one of four veterans of last year’s state championship team, has been the team’s No. 1 starter. Right-hander Tyler Crawford, lefty Collin Young and righty Colby Faulkes round out the team’s starting rotation.
All four pitchers have great command with their fastball, curve and change.
“That all goes back to coach Don Ressa,” Brandle said. “He does a great job teaching these kids how to pitch. They all throw nasty breaking balls and that’s the way Ressa teaches them. It’s that way all the way through the program.”
The Titans won four of five games with their Central Valley rivals this year. CV sent two different pitchers to the mound in those five games; U-Hi pitched four different starters.
The same should hold true for the tournament, which runs through Wednesday, with the championship game scheduled for 2:30 p.m. A second game, if needed, would follow immediately.
“Right now, I’m planning on staying with the rotation through the tournament,” the coach said. “I have a good bullpen that I have a lot of confidence in. The only thing that’s a little tricky is on Sunday. My catcher doesn’t play on Sunday because of church commitments – unless I can talk to his family and see if they’ll make an exception for a state tournament. Depending on which pitcher I use Sunday I have to make a lot of adjustments to my defense.”
The Titans’ defense is stellar, and Brandle is especially proud of his outfield.
“When you watch teams take their infield practice before a game, you’re always looking at which outfielders you can run on,” he said. “You can’t run on any of my outfielders. I have the best outfield defense in the league. Taylor Keeton may be the fastest outfielder in the state. Adam Roskamp and Michael Barr can all throw you out, if you try to run on them, and if a ball is hit to our outfield, it gets caught.”
There are several keys to University’s baseball success.
First, Brandle said, the program is designed to teach players to play baseball the U-Hi way.
“The way things work, we have two A Level teams, A1 and A2,” he said. “Kids come into the Legion program, the high school freshmen, and we put them on the A2 team. Since they’re first-year players, they usually take their lumps that first year, but it gives us a chance to teach them our bunt plays, teach them our signs, teach them the things that they’re going to need to know as they move through the program.
“From there, they move to the A1 team, like the players on this team did last year.”
Second, he said, there’s consistency in coaching.
“With the exception of Don Ressa and Scott Sutherland, the two high school coaches, everyone played in the program,” he said. “I played in this program until about five years ago. My assistant coach, Mike Conrad, played in this system until about three years ago. Same goes all the way up the line.
“That’s how we maintain our excitement for the game and for the system. Our kids and our coaches are all willing to come in and work hard and have fun. And they’re always willing to come in and do extra work, especially when it comes to maintaining our field.
“We have a great home field. When these new kids come into the program for the first time and they get a chance to go out there on our home field and play ball, they know that’s a place where they’re going to want to keep playing.”