The reigning District 8 champion Gonzaga Prep Bulldogs enter the season with five returning starters and eight returning lettermen. Coach Brian Munhall had a disappointing finish, falling to University and Walla Walla in regionals. And other than Seth Kuykendall, the team graduated most of its pitching. “We will really need some young arms to emerge and throw strikes,” Munhall said. Offensively, the Bullpups return outfielder Jack Machtolf, catcher Ryan Gross and shortstop Connor Coballes. “Our lineup should have a good combination of speed and strength,” Munhall said. His newcomers to watch include Cole Earley, Philip Reynolds, Josh Grimes and Bo McGinn.
Mt. Spokane coach Alex Schuerman again took his Wildcats to the state playoffs, but that first baseball title remains elusive. Schuerman has the unenviable job of replacing eight starters. Starting outfielder Kyle Shuey returns with two other lettermen to the team that finished 20-5 and lost to Mercer Island in the state quarterfinals. But the lack of starters has not dampened Schuerman’s outlook. “We have had a couple great summers in a row and we bring back a lot of talent,” he said. “A quick start could launch us into a great season.” He listed shortstop Gabe Martin as a newcomer to watch.
The Rogers Pirates rebounded from a rough 2014 and finished with a respectable 9-9 record last season. But veteran coach James Wasem has another rebuilding job for the Pirates after losing nine starters to graduation. With only one starter and two lettermen returning, Wasem listed Nathan Starasta, Ethan Starasta, Bailey Daniels and Josh Slawter as players to watch.
Mead had a good year that came to a crashing end with three-straight losses as the Panthers tried to make a run to the playoffs. The team that finished 12-10 last season breaks in new coach Ryne Webb, who took the field this spring with three returning starters among five returning lettermen. “We should be strong on the mound with two returning starters in Justin Dolezal and Mason Wells,” Webb said. “We believe we have the arms to match up with anyone.” Webb listed Kameron Kinder and Chris Soth as newcomers to watch. “I really believe we’ll be a team that improves steadily as our newcomers gain confidence,” he said.
The Ferris Saxons had a rough first year for coach Scott Ward and the team finished with a 1-18 record. Ward has a solid nucleus of six returning starters and 10 returning lettermen. I’m “excited to coach a young and more athletic team this year,” Ward said. We “need to develop more pitching and play good infield defense.” Ward will be looking to Kellen Cribbs, Axel Holm, Clayton Novotney, Jake Ochoa and Aaron Beaulaurier to provide senior leadership.
The Lewis and Clark Tigers scratched their way to a winning record last year (11-10) and coach Steve Bennett will have much of his team returning in hopes of challenging for a GSL crown. Bennett returns six starters among nine returning lettermen, including first-team GSL shortstop Cal Webb and second-team GSL designated hitter Cole Beemer. Newcomer Dawson Pate will join starters Camryn Schon, Nick Nystrom, Camden Bendickson and Jermaine Ducham. While Bennett expects a strong defense and seasoned batters, he listed pitching experience as a weakness. “Other than Camden Bendickson, the pitching staff is inexperienced at the varsity level,” he said. “Our level of success will depend on how big of a junior-to-senior step these guys can take.”
Perhaps no team made a bigger step forward last year than University, which won key games at the end of the season to advance to the state playoffs. And, coach Tom Hoiland has a strong nucleus returning with seven starters among 12 returning lettermen to a team that finished 13-10, beat G-Prep in regionals to earn the state trip to Tacoma. Hoiland will look to seniors Nathan Awbery, Ben Magruder, Griffin McDonald, Cam Dwyer, Gabe Oglesbee, Taylor Eskridge and Max Dwyer to propel the team. We have “good senior leadership,” Hoiland said. Although he has some players with no varsity experience, the coach expects to “compete with anyone in the league.” He listed Trent Seek and Johnny Sherril as newcomers to watch.
The Central Valley Bears finished just below .500 in a wild GSL last season. But, the Bears can claw their way back into contention as they return seven starters and letterwinners from the team that finished 12-13 last season. Coach Michael Amend will be looking to returning starters Connor Grytdal, Cameron Schneider, Connor Degeest, Kyle Lawson, Jase Edwards, and Brayden Hamilton for leadership. Amend said his team will be strong up the middle and experienced. He listed Noah Van Etten, Cody Krull and Braden Page as newcomers to watch. “We have some question marks on the mound at this point as we graduated most of our innings,” he said. “But we have capable guys to step up.”
Shadle Park coach Ron Brooks, the 35-year veteran coach who lists his record as “a ton of wins” and three league titles, will have possibly the toughest job of reshaping the Highlanders after all of but two his starters graduated from his team that finished 12-12 last year. After graduating 12 lettermen, Brooks listed Justin Solt and Jadan Vandervert as players to watch. “Since we have 13 new players, you pretty much have to watch them all,” Brooks said.
West Valley won the Great Northern League last year in coach Cory Aitken’s first season at the helm. The Eagles may have difficult repeating with only three returning starters among six returning lettermen. Aitken also lost Bennett Moore and Logan Van Vleck to injuries from the team that finished 17-5 and lost to East Valley (Yakima) in regionals. But Aitken listed a number of players to watch, including Ross Vermillion, Cameron Andrews, Scott South, Braxton Swenson, Jaxson Imada, Connor Whitney, Adam Lee, Dylan Androes, Mark Oestreich, Garrett Rickman and Kiernan Sowl. Aitken likes his pitching and defense, but has inexperienced batters. “I expect our hitting to be suspect maybe to start the season until the young kids learn to get their swing time,” he said. “We expect to be in the think of it at the end of the season and … defend our GNL title.”
The Freeman Scotties (20-6) won the NEA and regionals before finishing fourth at state last season. And Freeman could challenge again with five returning starters among 13 returning lettermen for coach Chad Ripke. He listed Konner Freudenthal, Keegan Cottrell, Simon Rooney and Koby Kent as players to watch this season. “They went to a final four last year and we return the bulk of our roster from last year,” Ripke said. “The boys are hungry and want to get back to Yakima this year.” The team features league MVP McKabe Cottrell and all-league players Desmond Parisotto, JT Neely, Ian Johnston and second-team all-league catcher Jack Paukert.
Deer Park will have a tall order knocking off Freeman after the Stags graduated most of its team from last year’s squad, which finished 15-8 and tied for third in the NEA. The Stags return three starters among five returning lettermen for coach Tanner Knutson. We are “needing inexperienced players at the varsity level to step up and help the team out,” Knutson said. We are going to “try to continue building success from 2015.”
Lakeside soared to a tie with Deer Park for third place in the NEA last season for coach Tim Klein, who has a slightly easier rebuilding project. Klein has four returning starters among seven returning lettermen from the team that finished 11-9 last year. He listed Chase Kuhnert, Lucas Owens, Dillon Clark, Nason Dvorak, Drew Shuler, Cameron Gay and Shay Hutyler as players to watch. Klein said he likes his returning team speed and has four players who have played for him for three years. We are “looking forward to competing for a state playoff spot,” Klein said.
Medical Lake is another team that returns several of the players that fought through a 9-14 campaign last year. Coach Kerry Kelly has seven returning starters from the team that finished fourth in the NEA. He listed Phillip Murray and Dylan Vercoe as newcomers to watch. The team also returns all-league pitcher Cory Wagner and second-team all-league players Brayden Hale and Tristin Keith. We “may struggle a bit to generate runs,” Kelly said. “I believe we have the ability and experience to compete with everybody in the league.”
Chewelah is another NEA school with several players returning as the Cougars try to scratch back after a 6-13 record last year. Coach Luke Jeanneret has seven returning starters among 10 returning lettermen for the Cougars. He listed Zak Kubik, a freshman, as a newcomer to watch. The team returns seniors Ahron Wuesthoff and Jonah Krausz, who both received all-league recognition. Jeanneret said his team can hit and he has several arms. “We have a fairly young team,” he said. “We look to get better every week and work our way into the postseason.”
Riverside had a tough year in 2015 but coach Derek Todd has eight returning starters to help the Rams improve on their 4-14 record. He listed Noah McMahon and Jacob Harms as two newcomers to watch. His returning starters include Justin Zale, Clay Wilson, Austin Sanchez, Nathan Pratt, John Bogetti, Brian Eggelston, John Coppock and Darren Webb. We are “a year older and more experienced,” Todd said. The “team has really focused on hitting and being aggressive on the bases. Depending on how these seniors work, it can be a great season.”
Northeast 2B Outlook
Few teams could boast a better season than Colfax had last year. The Bulldogs scrapped to a 25-2 record, advancing to the state 2B championship game where they fell to Adna 4-2. Coach Mike Parrish has five returning starters, including Dustyn Hall, Danny Robinson, Keith Gfeller, Kenton Lyman and Cal Gregory among 10 returning lettermen. He listed Matt Sharp, Parker Huber, Logan Gingerich, Hunter Mosebar, Nathan Akesson, Chris Lewis and Kyle Appel as newcomers to watch. “I think last year’s success will create a great deal of confidence in this year’s team moving forward,” Parrish said.
Davenport had a solid season last year and finished third in the league with a 15-5 record. Coach Dan Pitman has six returning starters among eight returning lettermen for the Gorrilas, who hope to challenge Colfax. He listed Aaron Davis as a newcomer to watch for the team that returns ace pitcher Loran Boggs along with seniors Ian Hunton, Cruz Plasencia, Nathan Hopkins and Kendall Coppersmith. He listed weaknesses as “depth at key positions have underclassmen,” he said. We “should finish in the top three.”
Few teams have the luxury of Liberty, which has 11 returning starters from the team that finished 10-11 last year. First-year coach Ken VanSickle also returns starting pitchers Nate Burley and Jake Pottratz along with all-league infielder Kyle DeGon. “Our two senior pitchers (Burley and Pottratz) are looking good in preseason and are poised for a strong year,” he said.
Others of note
Odessa-Harrington has five returning starters to the team that finished 18-10 last year for second-year coach Larry Weber. He listed Theron Schlomer as a newcomer to watch. Weber will be looking to Garrett Gross and Sage Elder for senior leadership on a very young team. “We will be starting several 8th graders,” Weber said. But the team returns two starting pitchers, including all-league selection Brad Johnston to help compete in the Northeast 1B League.
In the Southeast 1B League, Colton went undefeated and finished fifth in the 1B state championships last season for coach Pat Doumit. The Wildcats again should be tough as they return seven starters among 12 returning lettermen from the team, which also won the 2014 state title. The team returns all-league players Carter Dahmen, Brady Chadwick and Grant Kinzer. “We bring back 94 percent of our innings thrown last season … so we have the potential for a very strong pitching staff,” Doumit said. “If we can stay healthy, we have a chance to be be pretty good.”
St. John-Endicott/LaCrosse-Washtucna/Kahlotus hopes to rebound from a tough 1-19 campaign last year. The Eagles will count on senior leadership of Tyler Anderson and Eric Harder for coach Kyle Schultheis.
The Lake City Timberwolves may have a tough time repeating their 19-12 record from last year as only five starters return to a team, which also had eight returning lettermen for coach Paul Manzardo. He listed Kyle Manzardo and Zach Sensel as newcomers to watch. But, he also has eight returning seniors, including Cody Garza, Jarred Hall, Dominic Conigliaro, Tanner Criswell, Kaleb Reid, Brandon Stapleton, Grant Wade and Grayson Baker. Manzardo said his team has a strong infield and several players can play multiple positions.
The Post Falls Trojans scrapped their way to a 7-18-1 finish last season for coach Dustin Frank. Post Falls hopes to improve with seven starters among eight returning lettermen. Frank listed Nate Buer, Dusty Weeks, Isiah Gosney, Cameron McKeown, Josh McGlathery, Sam Schulze and Preston Benson as newcomers to watch. We have a “solid group of starting pitching and an offensive lineup that has depth,” Frank said.
Coeur d’Alene won the district last year and finished with an 18-8 record for coach Nick Mahin. The Vikings may have a tough time winning that many games with only two returning starters and five returning lettermen. Mahin listed Trever Luckey, Cameron Luckey, Cameron Nosworthy, Jayce Bailey, Hunter Wabs and Peyton Zahnow as newcomers to watch. “We are young, but have more hitting depth than I have seen in a high-school program in a long time,” Mahin said. “We have some arms, but lack experience.”
Other Idaho schools of note
Lakeland could have a tough job of improving on the 12-13 record from a year ago for head coach Jason Bradbury in the IEL 4A. His Hawks return one starter from last season. The coach listed Dylan Bradbury, Max Baker, JJ Mackesy, Tucker Price and Tyler Blood as newcomers to watch. “We are young, but all my players have played together for quite some time,” Bradbury said. “We will be competitive throughout the league.”
Timberlake will try to match the 2015 run to the playoffs as the Tigers return six starters for coach Matt George. He listed Thomas Hauck, Brady Nowlan and Dustin Smith as newcomers to watch as the team competes in the Intermountain League. George listed experience as one of the team’s strengths. “We will run the bases hard,” he said. But “we do not have a lot of power at the plate.”