Sports

Perseverance behind the plate

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Perhaps the nucleus of this early and seemingly unlikely success began five years ago.

Back then, South Kitsap High School catcher Todd Dalrymple said his junior-high school coach nearly cut him from the baseball team. He said the explanation was simple: Dalrymple was one of the smaller players on the team and it was easier to justify retaining someone else.

Dalrymple remained on the roster, but the experience led him to a simple conclusion -- he wasn’t going to put a coach in that predicament again. He would invest the time to improve as a hitter and leader, and would develop versatility.

“He was never upper-echelon, always a seven or eight hitter,” said Jim Fairweather, who has know Dalrymple since he played T-Ball. “Maybe that was the time he decided he couldn’t rest on his laurels. I’ve never had a question about it here.”

Fairweather, a social-studies teacher at South, said he’s only heard positive reports from the school’s physical-education teachers about his work in the weight room. Fairweather said that his versatility and the team’s lack of depth resulted in Dalrymple sticking with the varsity bench player last year as a junior.

“If we put him on the JV, we would’ve been really light on the bench,” he said. “He could play any position and hit in any spot in the lineup.”

Despite that, Dalrymple saw limited time last season and hit .207. Aaron Smothers, who hit a team-high .433 and was a first-team, all-Narrows League selection last season, was the Wolves’ catcher.

And it was another player who was expected to replace Smothers when he graduated. Fairweather slated Shawn Stayton to play the position.

“It was kind of unspoken that I would be the backup catcher behind Shawn,” Dalrymple said. “He got hurt. It’s worked out great.”

That’s because Stayton quickly returned to the lineup and agreed Dalrymple should remain behind the plate.

It also has alleviated what Fairweather said was the coaching staff’s biggest concern before projected No. 1-starter Brad Johnson left school and University of Washington commit Collin Monagle announced he might not pitch this season because of shoulder problems.

“He blocks balls, throws people out and commands pitches,” said Fairweather, adding that Dalrymple hasn’t committed an error this season. “He knows this program inside out. I think it’s going to be Todd’s until he decides he doesn’t want to do it.”

Despite the Wolves’ inexperience on the mound, they entered spring break with a 6-1 overall record and are 3-1 in league play. The staff has produced three shutouts so far, but also gave up three runs in the sixth inning of a 5-3 loss March 17 against Bellarmine Prep and surrendered nine hits in a 12-10 win March 24 against Central Kitsap.

“At times, it’s been a bit of an adventure,” Dalrymple said. “But these guys have more experience than people give them credit for. It’s a pleasure to work with them.”

They likely feel the same, especially when the right-handed Dalrymple steps up to the plate. He’s 8 for 17 (.471 batting average), has walked seven times (.640 on-base percentage) and has struck out just once. He also has a pair of home runs -- including a game-winning one off CK reliever Caleb Brown -- while scoring nine runs and driving in eight.

“The power numbers are ridiculous,” said Dalrymple, who attributes those statistics to his offseason work in the weight room. “I’ve never hit for power.”

Dalrymple, who carries a 3.6 grade-point average, hopes to build more than his slugging percentage in the future. He took an architecture class last year and hopes to continue studying in the fall, possibly at UW or Olympic College, where he might have the option to play baseball.

Right now, Dalrymple feels like he can accomplish plenty. He credits that mentality to the advice of his star-hitting predecessor at catcher.

“I just feel more confident this year than last year,” he said. “Smothers told me to be more confident when I’m hitting. That’s what I’m doing.”

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