Talent-laden baseball teams have great expectations

Spring preview: Sumner a top 2A contender; 3A Bonney Lake and 4A Puyallup also should be strong

of the HeraldMarch 19, 2014 

Sumner High School pitcher Christian Parsons unleashes a pitch toward the plate last year. Parsons returns to the Spartans as one of the top pitchers in the South Puget Sound League’s 2A division.

SHAUN SCOTT/HERALD FILE PHOTO

East Pierce County baseball teams have a rich tradition of success.

Puyallup, Sumner and Bonney Lake could have legitimate hopes to win state championships in their respective classifications this spring, while Rogers, Emerald Ridge, Cascade Christian and Chief Leschi should also be able to make some noise in the postseason.

The following is a capsule look at how each team will fare this season:

SUMNER SPARTANS

Head coach: Casey Adcox, fourth year

Last year: 18-8, advanced to Class 2A state-regional round

Key players: Christian Parsons, P; Logan Christensen, P; Tysen Fischlin, CF: Chase Torgison, P; Luc Powers-Hubbard, 3B/DH; Bryan Adkins, C; Brandon Walsh, SS; Gage Whitehead, LF; Nathan Harrell, 1B.

Sumner has had a run of recent success. After the Spartans reached the Class 2A state semifinals in 2012, they backed it up with an appearnce in the state-regional round last year.

The majority of those players are seniors this season, and that leads some to believe Sumner could make a deep playoff run.

“We return a lot of guys,” Sumner head coach Casey Adcox said. “We have 12 varsity guys from the state-regional team and nine players from the final four team two years ago.

“I think the players would tell you they want a state championship,” Adcox said. “I would say I hope for us to just be playing our best baseball at the end of the season. Experience tells me that the other stuff seems to start to fall into place when that happens.”

Sumner pitchers Christian Parsons and Logan Christensen were a dominant one-two punch a year ago, and the lineup is far from bare.

“The strength of our team is depth,” Adcox said. “I wouldn’t say we are a team that you have to just be careful with our one-through-five hitters. The whole lineup has guys who have unique talents and, quite frankly, they could all hit in different spots.”

Parsons, outfielder Tysen Fischlin, outfielder Chase Torgison and third baseman Luc Powers-Hubbard all earned first team South Puget Sound League 2A honors last season.

BONNEY LAKE PANTHERS

Head coach: Mike Olson, ninth year

Last year: 14-12, placed fifth at Class 3A state tournament

Key players: Mike Gretler, SS; Kash Koltermann, P; Cory Burill, 3B; Taiki Green, P; Dylan Moran, OF.

Bonney Lake peaked at the right time last season.

After a sluggish start, the Panthers went on a memorable postseason run and finished fifth at the Class 3A state tournament. They will return all but one player this spring.

Head coach Mike Olson said five players already have committed to collegiate baseball programs.

Shortstop Mike Gretler has committed to Oregon State, and Olson said he’s been in the conversation during the past two season as the South Puget Sound League MVP.

“He is just a fantastic player,” Olson said.

No. 1 pitcher Kash Koltermann has committed to Bellevue College.

“He had a shutout in the first game at the state tournament last year, and that is something we hope he can gain confidence from and build on,” Olson said.

The coach is confident in his team’s chances this season.

“I don’t think there is a goal that is not reachable for this team,” he said. “We definitely want to make another run at the state tournament.

“It’s tough,” he added. “It takes a lot of breaks and getting hot at the right time. Last year, Auburn Mountainview won the state title, and they had to win a couple of loser-out games when they were down to their last out to get there.

“It’s not a state-title-or-bust kind of season for us, but we expect to make a run.”

PUYALLUP VIKINGS

Head coach: Marc Wiese, 19th year

Last year: 22-3, advanced to 4A state-regionals

Key players: Brendan Illies, P/C; Luke Heimlich, P; Quinn Rawson, 1B; Levi Jordan, SS; Tyler McDowell, P/OF; Darian Clemens, CF; Zach Needham, 2B; Lane Griffin, P/OF.

The Vikings will go into the season as the favorite to win the Class 4A state title for the first time in school history.

Puyallup, which was ranked No. 21 in the nation by the Collegiate Baseball National High School preseason poll, returns its entire starting lineup.

“We have 14 kids that should be playing day in and day out,” head coach Marc Wiese said. “The tough part of my job will be figuring out the right combinations. This 2014 Puyallup team is the most talented group that I have ever coached.”

Being ranked so high on a national scale doesn’t intimidate the Vikings.

“Puyallup baseball has pressure every year,” Wiese said. “It doesn’t feel any different being ranked in the top 25 in the country. The bottom line is that we need to compete and battle for the next three months.

“We are going to enjoy the process and cherish our time together on and off the field,” Wiese added. “Our goal is nothing less than a state championship. We have a lot of work to accomplish.”

ROGERS RAMS

Head coach: Matt Whitehead, second year

Last year: 15-7, advanced to 4A West Central District tournament

Key players: Troy Johnston, 1B; Shawn Hansen, OF; Kelly Fromm, P; Gage Gervacio, SS.

The Rams lost three of their most prolific hitters to graduation, but Rogers second-year head coach Matt Whitehead expects his team to be just fine this year.

Sophomore first baseman Troy Johnston led the team in hitting as a freshman, and seniors Gage Gervacio and Shawn Hansen are the team’s vocal leaders.

“I know we lost three (NCAA) Division I hitters from last year (Michael Sexton, Logan Ice and Stefan Van Horn), but we still have some very good hitters in our lineup,” Whitehead said. “That is going to the be the strength of our team. We’re young, but we can hit the ball.”

Whitehead believes the competitiveness between Rogers, Emerald Ridge and Puyallup brings out the best in the three Puyallup School District high schools.

“It’s huge for all three teams,” he said. “We get up to play each other, and I know we step up to another level. We come to play every single game, and we have a quality ballclub.”

EMERALD RIDGE JAGUARS

Head coach: Larry Marshall, first year

Last year: 21-5, advanced to 4A state-regional round

Key players: Chad Gideon, P; Cameron Sommer, P; Nathan Packard, P; Kevin Rosin, P; Chad Martinson, OF; Jordan Stoner, SS; Griffin Meyers, 3B.

Former Pacific Lutheran University coach Larry Marshall has taken over at Emerald Ridge, where the first few weeks focused on competition.

Sixty-four players turned out on the first day for Marshall, who was at PLU from 1984-2002.

Marshall said his players are buying into his style of play. He’s just second baseball coach in school history after Tim Spears held the job for the past 13 seasons.

“We have a young team this year, and we are very talented,” Marshall said. “Team speed is one of our strengths, and we’re going to exploit that when we have runners on base.”

This year’s version of the Jaguars will look very different from the squad that won 21 games last year. Marshall said seven to nine players graduated last June.

“It’s a whole new coaching staff and a lot of new faces on this year’s team,” Marshall said. “We have a lot of work to do.

“We have been working as hard as we can these past eight or nine days,” he said. “We’re putting in a whole new system. It is going to take time. Our goal is to consistently improve on a daily basis and be playing our best baseball toward the end of the year.”

CHIEF LESCHI WARRIORS

Head coach: Kirk Willis, fifth year

Last year: Did not win a game

Key players: Caleb Sugiyama, P/1B; Robert Oakley, UTIL.

Chief Leschi head coach Kirk Willis is optimistic about his team’s chances, even though the Warriors went winless last season.

Chief Leschi started the season with 22 players but finished with just 11.

“Those 11 guys at the end of the year were playing good baseball,” Willis said. “We weren’t competitive as we would like to be with wins, but we were playing the game very well.

“The guys were having fun,” he added. “We had some great progress as the season went on. There is a difference between playing the game and being competitive. We are at the point now where we are ready to be competitive.”

Willis said the Warriors have 18 players this spring. Senior left-hander Caleb Sugiyama will be the No. 1 pitcher, and sophomore Robert Oakley will be the best offensive threat.

“Caleb just brings a lot of energy to our team,” Willis said. “He is always around the plate and is one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever been around. He doesn’t have the high-velocity fast-ball, but he can make the ball bend.

“Robert is a strong kid and is a multi-purpose player for us,” the coach added. “He’s only a sophomore, and we’re looking forward to having him around for a while.”

CASCADE CHRISTIAN COUGARS

Head coach: Paul Sopak, 12th year

Last year: Lost to Tenino in first round of Class 1A state tournament

Key players: Blake Sanderson, 1B; Zach Stevenson, P; Nathan Pierce, P; Michael Newstrom, OF; Austin Carder, SS; Michael Messer, C.

Cascade Christian returns the bulk of its players from a team that reached the first round of the Class 1A state tournament last season. Cougars head coach Paul Sopak is confident his team can get back there this spring, too.

Returning seniors Zach Stevenson and Nathan Pierce will anchor the pitching staff, and team captain Blake Sanderson is gearing up for a big junior season, Sopak said.

“Blake was first team all-league as a freshman and sophomore,” Sopak said. “He will move to first base this season, filling a huge hole left by 2013 grad Jacob Kushan.”

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