The obvious difference in Thomas Wakem begins around his mouth.
For the first time under University baseball coach Scott Sutherland, Titans are allowed to have facial hair this spring. The absence of facial hair before was one of the few links to former longtime coach Don Ressa.
Wakem is sporting a well manicured goatee.
Hair or not, it’s had no impact on Wakem’s production at the plate. The three-year starter is off to a solid start, batting .500 (10 of 20) – second best on the team behind Colin Young (.580, 11 of 19).
Wakem leads the Titans in on-base percentage and slugging percentage (.800).
“He’s been very effective for us offensively,” Sutherland said.
Wakem, who played first base early in the season, has moved permanently to center field. He’ll play at first only when Cody McGlocklin is pitching.
A three-sport athlete, Wakem started at defensive back the first three games of the football season before switching to wide receiver. He was also the team’s punter. He was an All-GSL honorable mention selection at the position.
In basketball, Wakem came off the bench. He averaged about 10 minutes per game.
Baseball is his first love. But he continued to play basketball for his mother.
“I grew up playing basketball all my life,” Wakem said. “My mom always coached my brothers. I did it for my mom. I couldn’t bring myself to quit the sport that she raised me to play.”
Wakem recently was crowned Mr. University. The competition, which had nine contestants, requires a talent and speech.
For his talent, Wakem sang “Heartless.” He’d never sung in public before.
“Apparently everybody liked it,” Wakem said. “I was completely nervous. I’m less nervous walking up to the plate to bat than I was singing.”
He gave a short 2-minute speech.
“I talked about my childhood, growing up with brothers and family and how that influenced my life and high school,” Wakem said.
Wakem excels in the classroom where he sports a 3.97 grade-point average. He’s had one grade lower than an A-.
“It was a B+ in sophomore math that I took as a freshman,” he said.
He wants to play baseball in college.
“So far I’m fairly happy with how I’ve been playing this season,” he said. “I’ve been hitting pretty well. I know there’s definite room for improvement.”
U-Hi went 4-2 the first two weeks of league play.
“I’m really happy with how we’re hitting as a team,” Wakem said. “We have guys who haven’t had varsity experience and I’ve been impressed with how they’re handling things. We can hit one through nine in our lineup.”
Sutherland knows Wakem will find his way in life.
“Whatever he goes into after he’s done playing baseball he will be very successful because he’s a hard worker,” Sutherland said.
Lewis and Clark (2-5), Central Valley (1-5), North Central (1-6) and Rogers (1-6) have had difficult beginnings to their seasons.
• Senior shortstop Dakota DuBois and senior catcher Alex Buskirk are off to good starts for LC. DuBois has hit three homers in the Tigers’ last four games, and he threw a two-hitter in a win over NC last week.
• CV graduated all but one starter off the team that finished as co-league champ with Mt. Spokane. Senior Sean Howard leads the Bears in hitting (.412, 7 of 17).
“We take one step forward and two back sometimes,” CV coach Barry Poffenroth said. “It’s going to be a work in progress. I thought we’d compete a little more than what we have been.”
• NC coach Scott Harmon said his team has been bipolar. The Indians are either competitive or get thumped.
“I can’t even begin to explain this season to you,” Harmon said. “I said in the preseason that we needed to stay hungry and healthy. I don’t necessarily know if we’ve been hungry. Hopefully in the second half of the season we can finish stronger than we started.”
• Rogers has had more downs than ups.
“We’re not bad but our pitching has been inconsistent,” Pirates coach Jim Wasem said. “We haven’t been able to keep down the big inning.”
Off and running
Six teams are still very much in the hunt for the league championship.
Gonzaga Prep brings a 7-0 record into the third week of the season. Ferris (6-1) is next, followed by U-Hi and Mt. Spokane, both of which are 4-2. Shadle Park (4-3) and Mead (3-3) remain in the mix.
Weather permitting, G-Prep and Ferris play for the first time Wednesday at Gonzaga Prep, beginning at 1 p.m.
Ferris plans on starting left-handed senior Spencer Ansett (3-0, 1.75 ERA). G-Prep will counter with sophomore righty Zach Bonneau (1-0, 4.30 ERA). Ansett has 23 strikeouts in 20 innings.
Both teams are hitting well. The Bullpups continue to be led by Conner Slater (.500, 8 of 16), Connor Smith (.474, 9 of 19), Matt Miller (.429, 9 of 21) and Kane Ulrich (.400, 8 of 20).
“They’ll be the guys that carry us all year,” G-Prep coach Brian Munhall said.
Leading Ferris are Travis Key (.640, 16 of 25) and Ryan Krustangel (.560, 14 of 25). Key also has team highs in RBIs (15) and doubles (six).
“We’re swinging the bat all the way through the lineup,” Ferris coach Jim Sharkey said. “We’re getting more production out of the bottom of the order.”
Shadle Park jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against G-Prep last week thanks to a grand slam by freshman Evan Douglas. But a Shadle errors allowed three runs as the Bullpups rallied for a 6-5 win. … U-Hi catcher Hayden Powell, the Titans’ leadoff hitter, went 4 for 5 with three RBIs in a 16-9 loss to Mt. Spokane. … In between innings in the Mt. Spokane/U-Hi game, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” was played, and many were struck by the irony. … The top of Mead’s lineup is crushing the ball. Paul Miller, Skyler Lookabill and Ryan Roberts each had three hits in the Panthers’ 12-4 win at Shadle. The day before in a 26-3 win over CV, Lookabill hit for the cycle, including a grand slam, and Miller went 4 for 6 with six RBIs. The trio has combined to go 25 for 37 in the last three games. Also in that stretch, Miller has gone 10 for 13, including two homers. … G-Prep junior pitcher David Machtolf is 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 10 innings. Freshman teammate Justin Blatner is 2-0 with a 0.70 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 10 innings.