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Baseball: Senior trio leads South Kitsap lineup
South Kitsap BASEBALL
Wed. Mt. Tahoma
Fri. at Mt. Tahoma
March 26 Olympia
March 28 at Olympia
April 2 Shelton
April 4 at Shelton
April 5 at University
April 9 at Stadium
April 11 Stadium
April 13 at Bainbridge
April 16 Bellarmine Prep
April 18 at Bellarmine Prep
April 23 at Central Kitsap
April 25 Central Kitsap
Coach: Jim Fairweather, ninth season.
Key returners: 3B Jesse Moore, jr.; OF Kaleb Nelson, sr.; 1B/C Mike Nelson, sr.; C Alex Sablan, sr.; SS Vince Sablan, sr.; OF/RHP Thomas Simpson, jr.; LHP Kellen Traxel, jr.; 2B Kevin Whatley, jr.
Key departures: 3B/RHP Zach Mendiola, graduated; 1B/OF/LHP Zach Reyes, graduated; 2B Tanner Romo, graduated; OF D’Aundray Van Slyke, graduated; OF Doug Yamamoto, graduated.
Key newcomers: OF Daryn Atkinson, sr.; RHP Robbie Baker, sr.; 3B Tyler Ludlow, so.; LHP Tyler Parks, sr.; C Tanner Paulson, so.; OF Cody Wolfe, jr.
Many programs would be satisfied with setting a preseason goal of reaching state.
Just do not count South Kitsap among them.
Not when the Wolves are among the state’s most storied baseball programs. And definitely not when they were eliminated in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs last year.
“They felt unfilled after last year,” South coach Jim Fairweather said. “They want to go deep and win it all.”
South, which finished with a 13-7-1 record in 2011, appears in good position to be a state contender as it returns the core of an offense that averaged 6.1 runs per game last year.
It starts with senior first baseman Mike Nelson, who hit a team-best .523 with 12 doubles, five home runs and 25 RBI last year. The Wolves’ No. 3 hitter only struck out five times.
But Nelson, who signed to play next season at Jamestown College in North Dakota, said he has plenty of help in the lineup.
“Offensively, we’re pretty good up and down the lineup,” he said. “As a team, I see us being very complete.”
Nelson will be sandwiched in the batting order by the Sablan twins, both of whom plan to play next year at Olympic College. Vince Sablan returns at shortstop for a third straight season and will hit in front of Nelson. He finished with a .340 batting average and drew 14 walks in 2011.
Alex Sablan, who hit .333 and had six doubles and 11 walks last year, will hit directly behind Nelson.
Fairweather has few concerns about that trio, but noted there are some concerns with the lineup as South begins its season this week.
It begins with second baseman Tanner Romo, who hit .375 with two home runs and 10 RBI as the Wolves’ lead-off hitter last year.
Romo now plays at Everett Community College.
His spot in the batting order and position likely will be filled by junior Kevin Whatley.
“I would hope so,” said Fairweather when asked if his team can maintain their offensive prowess from 2011. “We’re breaking in some new bats.”
In addition to Romo, South also graduated D’Aundray Van Slyke, who now competes at Pierce College. Fairweather regarded Romo and Van Slyke, a center fielder, as strong defenders.
But Fairweather is not concerned about his defense regressing without them.
“I think we should be pretty solid,” he said. “We like to build up the middle.”
Sablan struggled at shortstop as a sophomore, but he committed only three errors last year. Fairweather said Sablan took those struggles “personally” and endeavored to improve his defense after 2010.
Junior Tom Simpson is positioned behind the double-play combination of Sablan and Whatley in center field. Simpson also served as a right-handed pitcher last year, and while Fairweather said he is capable on the mound, he fills a greater need in the outfield.
Simpson likely will be flanked by seniors Kaleb Nelson and Darren Atkinson. Fairweather projects Nelson as the No. 6 hitter and Atkinson in the ninth spot.
“He can really help us flip the lineup,” said Fairweather, noting Atkinson strong on-base skills.
The other regular is junior Jesse Moore at third base. Fairweather said Moore made a favorable impression when he played last season.
He said others who could press for playing time include sophomores Tyler Ludlow (third base) and Tanner Paulson (catcher) and junior outfielder Cody Wolfe.
South’s pitching staff could be just as formidable depending on its health. Fairweather said that issue is holding back a couple of players, but junior left-hander Kellen Traxel returns. He already has committed to the University of Washington.
“He’s our stalwart,” Fairweather said. “He’ll see as much time as he can handle.”
In addition to Traxel, junior right-hander Michael Wood returns after seeing varsity time last year. Fairweather said senior newcomers Robbie Baker, a righty, and left-hander Taylor Parks also could factor into the pitching staff.
The Wolves’ schedule looks similar to recent years with non-league games at North Kitsap and Timberline both lined up this week along with the regular league slate. But unlike most years, Fairweather has scheduled road games at Idaho’s Post Falls and University of Spokane during spring break.
“It’s a mature group with good leadership,” he said, noting that legendary South coach Elton Goodwin regularly played non-league games at Eastmont of Wenatchee. “We like them so much that we want to go somewhere together. We thought if anyone deserves it, it is this group.”