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Keeton, U-Hi warm up to success

Taylor Keeton prepares to throw to first base from third at University High School. The Titan standout and his team were playing the Mt. Spokane Wildcats. (Jesse Tinsley)
Taylor Keeton prepares to throw to first base from third at University High School. The Titan standout and his team were playing the Mt. Spokane Wildcats. (Jesse Tinsley)

Titans shrug off cold weather, hope for playoffs

Taylor Keeton has manned the hot corner for University High School for two baseball seasons, but that doesn’t help him keep warm this season.

“The biggest challenge for me this season has been staying warm between innings,” the returning all-Greater Spokane League senior said. “It’s hard to stay warm, and that makes it hard to make the throws you need to make in the field.”

Wednesday the Titans found a way to keep warm, scoring 24 runs in a shutout win over Rogers at U-Hi. But even then it was a challenge.

“(Assistant coach) Don (Ressa) has been doing this for 40 years and I’ve been doing it for 20,” baseball coach Scott Sutherland said. “Neither of us have seen a spring like this. There’s no flow to it. It changes every day – it would be nice to get a few days of good weather in a row so we could get the field in shape and get our work in.

“Let me put it this way: We’re halfway through the (GSL) season and we have yet to have a practice on our own home field. We’ve been fortunate to be able to play four home games on it, but we haven’t been able to get on it to practice.”

The saving grace, Sutherland admitted, is that the weather has been the same for every team, although field conditions vary across the expanse of the GSL.

“I tell you what, we played up at Mt. Spokane Tuesday and I believe that’s the coldest place in the league to play, especially when you get that wind blowing across the prairie,” he said. “But we played at home (Wednesday) and the wind was whipping us pretty good, must have been blowing about 35 miles per hour.

“I tell you, there’s a reason that major league baseball starts its season with a nice, long spring training season in a warmer climate.”

The players were given the rest of the week off – it is spring break, after all – and Keeton is ready for warmer weather for the second half of the season and the drive toward the playoffs by the third-place Titans.

“I watch the weather report every night, but it hasn’t had much good news,” he said. “I think we’re all ready to get outside and put in the hard work we need. Right now, I think we’re playing a solid B game. All we need is to get our work in outside to get up to our A game.”

Hard work has been a hallmark of Keeton’s career, but the same can be said for the older brother and two sisters who went before him. Sisters Christine and Jessica both were all-state softball players for the Titans while brother Craig was an all-GSL catcher.

“I’ve gotten to know their dad pretty well – Craig and I like to go fishing together,” Sutherland said. “I’m sorry to see the end of line with his kids. They’ve all been outstanding players here.”

Taylor Keeton sets a standard for the rest of the team with his hard work on and off the field, the coach said.

This year, of course, most of that work has been in the gym.

“We take a lot of batting practice in the gym,” Keeton said. “It helps a little, I guess, but it’s definitely not the same as hitting against live pitching and really not like hitting in an actual game.

“Same with fielding. You can take ground balls inside, but that’s nothing like being outside to field ground balls.”

Still, Keeton carries a .346 batting average into the second half of the GSL season, holding down a key spot in the Titans’ batting order.

“Taylor hits right behind Trevor Wakem in our batting order, and that’s an important spot,” Sutherland said. “Right now, Trevor is hitting .633 for us, and I think if we didn’t have Taylor hitting right behind him in the order, teams probably pitch around Trevor.”

“Trevor sees a lot of breaking balls,” Keeton said. “I see a lot of them, too. Pitchers are afraid to throw their fastball. Because they haven’t had a lot of time throwing off a mound, they really haven’t had great curveballs to throw, either. Mostly they throw them out of the strike zone trying to get us to chase them.”

Keeton went through a stretch where, while he was hitting the ball hard, it was almost always right at a defender.

“I think he’s finally battled through that situation,” Sutherland said. “Right now he’s third on the team in runs batted in with 10.”

Keeton said he sees what he and his teammates need to do as the team heads into the final stretch of the GSL season.

At the break, Ferris and Gonzaga Prep both boast 8-1 league records, but both are Class 4A and are a lesser concern for the Titans than Mt. Spokane (7-2), which holds a one-game lead on 6-3 University in the race for the top seed in the Class 3A playoffs.

“If we had to go into the playoffs right now, I don’t think we’d have the pitchers we’d need to make a run,” he said. “We haven’t had the chance to get them the kind of work they need to have confidence pitching in the playoffs.

“But I’m confident we can get there.”

Sutherland has always preached that the GSL season demands that teams get hot at the right time.

“I have been saying it all along: the baseball season in this league isn’t a marathon,” he said. “It’s a sprint.”

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