Baseball preview: Wolves eager to see what they have

Junior Mike Nelson, a catcher last season, plays first base this year. He had a team-best .603 on-base percentage in 2010. - File photo
Junior Mike Nelson, a catcher last season, plays first base this year. He had a team-best .603 on-base percentage in 2010.
— image credit: File photo

Date Opponent Time
Monday Stadium 4 p.m.
Tuesday Olympia 4 p.m.*
Wednesday at Stadium 3:45 p.m.
Thursday Shelton 4 p.m.
April 18 at Bellarmine Prep 4 p.m.
April 20 Bellarmine Prep 4 p.m.
April 25 Central Kitsap 4 p.m.
April 27 at Central Kitsap 4 p.m.
* Game continued from second inning from suspended April 1 contest.

Coach: Jim Fairweather, eighth season.Key returners: 3B/RHP Zach Mendiola, sr.; 1B/C Mike Nelson, jr.; 1B/OF/LHP Zach Reyes, sr.; 2B Tanner Romo, sr.; C Alex Sablan, jr.; SS Vince Sablan, jr.; OF D’Aundray Van Slyke, sr.Key departures: C/RHP Gordy Anderson, graduated; IF Mitch Cartwright, graduated; DH Swey Dean, graduated; OF Josh Fort, graduated; IF/RHP Ricky Johnson, graduated; RHP Riley Voshell, graduated.Top newcomers: RHP Austin Cook, sr.; RHP Josh Johnston, so.; RHP Cory Main, jr.; OF Jesse Moore, so.; RHP Kaleb Nelson, jr.; OF/RHP Thomas Simpson, so.; LHP Kellen Traxel, so.; OF/RHP Kevin Whatley, so.; OF Doug Yamamoto, sr.; RHP Brad Young, so.

Elementary-school students often hear that March weather is in like a lion, out like a lamb.

But as the first week of April arrived, South Kitsap baseball coach Jim Fairweather was still waiting for the latter.

Baseball season was scheduled to begin nearly a month ago, but the Wolves had played just twice at home. As of Monday, Fairweather said his team practiced or played outside only 10 times.

While acknowledging that has been frustrating at times, Fairweather said he is trying to keep his message optimistic to a youthful squad.

“We harken back to ’96 when we won it all,” he said. “That was the last time we spent more time in a gym than outside.”

That state-championship team featured a pair of future major-league players, Willie Bloomquist and Jason Ellison. The Wolves also won state titles in 1983 and 2003.

Such a feat may be difficult this season. South, which finished with a 13-10 record last year, is inexperienced on the mound following the graduations of right-handed starters Gordy Anderson and Ricky Johnson.

Junior Cory Main and senior Zach Mendiola have emerged as a couple of the Wolves’ top pitchers. Fairweather also hopes to utilize seniors Austin Cook and Zach Reyes, both of whom have had injuries this season, on the mound.Two other pitching prospects are sophomores Thomas Simpson and Kellen Traxel. Fairweather referred to the latter as “a very lively left-handed arm,” but added that he still is learning how to efficiently get batters out.

He said the pitching staff is behind schedule because of the rainouts and that is exacerbated by their inexperience.

“There’s just times where they seem a little overwhelmed,” he said.

South’s offense has been steadier as the team entered April with a 5-1-1 record. The Wolves have averaged 8.9 runs per game this season.

Second baseman Tanner Romo, who batted .306 through the Narrows League playoffs last season, returns as the lead-off hitter. Fairweather said Romo, who signed with Everett Community College, is one of the team’s senior leaders.

“We love them,” he said, referring to the seniors. “They do a good job of leading these guys.”

Romo’s double-play partner also returns. Junior Vince Sablan bats second, but Fairweather is more impressed with his defensive development at shortstop.

“He’s playing a real solid shortstop,” he said. “I think he has one error. That’s a far cry from where he was last year.”

Mike Nelson, another junior, primarily is expected to play first base this season after catching in 2010. He had a .378 batting average and led South in on-base percentage (.603) and RBI (19) last year.

“Every time he hit’s a ball, it’s hard,” Fairweather said.

Vince Sablan’s twin brother, Alex, returns as the primary catcher this year. He will hit fourth in the lineup, but Fairweather, a former catcher, likes his work as a backstop.

“He’s a stalwart behind the plate,” he said. “He’s throwing the ball down to second really well.”

D’Aundray Van Slyke returns in center field. The senior has improved enough from a hitting standpoint that Fairweather said he has moved up to fifth in the batting order.

“We’re really pleased about what we’re getting out of D’Aundray,” he said.

Platoons are not common in high school, but Fairweather said junior Kaleb Nelson, a right-handed hitter, emerged while Reyes was out. He said Nelson will share the designated-hitter role with Reyes, a lefty.

One of three sophomores – Jesse Moore, Simpson and Kevin Whatley – will bat seventh and play left field.

“Those three kids are all going to be key guys for us in the future,” Fairweather said.

The last two spots in the lineup are reserved for Mendiola (third base) and senior Doug Yamamoto (right field). Fairweather said Mendiola is more comfortable hitting lower in the lineup, while Yamamoto makes sense batting ninth where his base-running skills can be displayed.

Perhaps one benefit of the numerous rainouts was the ability for players to study video on their hitting indoors. Fairweather said the coaching staff was able to point out adjustments to several players and he has been happy with the result. The Wolves have combined for 21 runs in their last two games.

“We’re feeling pretty good about hitting the ball,” Fairweather said.

While every local team has been affected by the weather, Romo said South’s intangibles might be beneficial when games resume. The Wolves are scheduled to play four games next week.

“I feel that we have a good, savvy baseball team,” Romo said.

Fairweather hopes that is enough in the Class 4A Narrows, which appears balanced. Through Monday, South was tied with Gig Harbor for first place in the eight-team league. Olympia (4-1) was one-half game behind.

“It seems to me that the league is more balanced,” Fairweather said. “I don’t know that it’s tougher, but we’re all in the same boat. There’s no one really dominant team.”

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