Seemingly every year many of the top players graduate and seemingly every year there’s concern there could be a drop-off in quality.
There’s something about competition, though, that will cause teams to raise their level of play, and that shouldn’t be any different this year. There’s plenty of returning talent to prompt competition each time the teams take the field.
The coaches tabbed Mt. Spokane, which shared the league title last year with Central Valley, as the runaway favorite. Of the eight coaches who voted in the preseason rankings, seven tabbed Mt. Spokane as the favorite and one picked Ferris. Six coaches gave Ferris the nod for second.
After that, though, it’s anybody’s guess. Mead, Shadle Park and University were tightly packed among the coaches votes and just a little bit back were Gonzaga Prep, CV and North Central.
The team that could make the sharpest fall is defending co-champ CV. The Bears graduated practically their entire lineup and pitching staff.
There are seven returning first team all-league picks. They are: senior pitcher Spencer Ansett of Ferris, senior infielder Paul Miller of Mead, senior outfielder Ryan Roberts of Mead, senior outfielder Thomas Wakem of University, senior first baseman Carson Blumenthal of Mt. Spokane, senior designated hitter Beau Bozett of Ferris and senior catcher Ryan Krustangel of Ferris.
Returning second-team selections are: senior pitcher Alex Allard and junior Kelly Fitzpatrick, both of Mt. Spokane, senior infielder Spencer Mallonee of Mt. Spokane, senior infielder Nick Motsinger of U-Hi, senior infielder Danny Rowton of Shadle Park, senior outfielder Brandtly Thornton of U-Hi and senior outfielder Preston VanDoren of Mt. Spokane.
If there’s an early candidate for most valuable player, at least on offense, it may be Miller of Mead.
Miller finished second among the GSL leaders in average last year (.537), first in doubles (12) and triples (four), second in stolen bases (19) and tied for third in runs (29).
Another player who returns with respectable numbers is Krustangel of Ferris, who is headed to the University of Washington. Krustangel batted .464 and tied for most homers (six).
There’s no secret why Mt. Spokane is heavily favored. It starts with the Wildcats’ pitching staff. Blumenthal and Fitzpatrick, both left-handers, and Allard, a righty, combined for a 15-3 record last year. Blumenthal led the way at 6-1 and has the best returning ERA (2.59).
Mt. Spokane returns six starters and three other lettermen.
“We return our top six pitchers from last season,” Mt. Spokane coach Alex Schuerman said.
The big reason Ferris is picked to finish second and perhaps challenge Mt. Spokane is because of its position players. The Saxons return six starters and six other lettermen.
The biggest concern for Ferris coach Jim Sharkey is pitching. The Saxons return just one pitcher, but he’s a dandy in senior three-year starter and lefty Ansett, who was 4-3 a year ago with a 2.65 ERA.
The way the schedule works, Mt. Spokane and Ferris don’t play until the final two days of the regular season – April 27 at Mt. Spokane and April 28 at Ferris.
What they’re saying
For obvious reasons, Schuerman likes the makings of his team.
“Our seniors are polished and eager to make a deep state run,” Schuerman said. “This team reminds me a lot of our 2007 team that made it to the first round of state. I expect big things.”
Ferris won the league title in football and basketball. The Saxons can make it a sweep in baseball.
“We have a strong returning core,” Sharkey said. “We’re strong up the middle. If our pitching develops we could contend. If not we could be inconsistent.”
U-Hi coach Scott Sutherland is high on his team.
“We’re a very cohesive bunch and they’re mature, hard-working athletes,” Sutherland said. “We have a sound, athletic team. We should be fun to watch.”
Mead will challenge Mt. Spokane and Ferris.
“If we can get our pitchers experience and they can develop we should be contending for a playoff berth,” Mead coach Jason Reich said. “Our hitters will need to make the adjustment quickly in order to give our young pitching a chance to grow and produce.”
CV coach Barry Poffenroth didn’t need to say much to explain the rebuilding process he faces.
“Not much varsity experience,” Poffenroth said.
But Poffenroth is encouraged by the youth in his program. His junior varsity finished 17-3 and the freshmen were 19-1.
Things are moving up at Gonzaga Prep, which had to rely on some youth last year.
“We are going to have a lot of depth on the mound and have the majority of players returning from the AA American Legion team that went 17-2 and went to the state tournament,” G-Prep coach Brian Munhall said.
NC coach Scott Harmon expects significant improvement from 3-17 last spring.
“We’re not very deep and must remain healthy and hungry during the season,” Harmon said.
Shadle Park coach Ron Brooks is optimistic.
“The team was very young last year and gained a lot of experience,” Brooks said. “This group really likes each other and has good team chemistry.”
Inland Empire League
In 5A, it will be a senior-dominated league. Each team possesses a number of quality seniors.
Defending 5A league champ Lewiston is the team to beat until proven otherwise. But the league could be as competitive as it has been in years.
In 4A, Sandpoint is given a slim nod over Moscow, but all three teams should match up well.
There are eight returning players in 5A and eight in 4A.
In 5A the returners are: senior pitchers Beau Kerns of Lewiston and Colin Comack and Jake Pereria of Coeur d’Alene, senior catcher Kyle Mai of Lewiston, senior infielders Glade Grunenfelder of Lewiston, Drew Turbin and Matt Lambert of CdA and senior utility player Jason Pattis of Lake City. Mitch Bevacqua of LC was the newcomer of the year as a freshman last spring.
In 4A the returners are: senior pitchers Cody Vandever of Lakeland, Tevin Hamilton of Sandpoint and Jake Helbling of Moscow, senior outfielder Nick Halpin of Sandpoint, senior infielders Kyle Layen of Moscow and junior Lane Brooks of Moscow, senior catcher Eric Nikssarian of Sandpoint and senior designated hitter Drew Papineau of Moscow.
CdA expects to challenge
The Vikings return eight starters and two other lettermen – the most experience third-year coach Nick Rook has had.
“We will be as athletic as anyone,” Rook said. “Our team speed is very, very good. Offensively, we should be solid and defensively, we should be solid. We have extremely good leadership in our senior class. Expectations have never been higher. We need to answer the call. There’s a lot of pressure on our senior class.”
LC coach Al Bevacqua expects his team to challenge Lewiston and CdA.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Bevacqua said. “You’ll have to bring your ‘A’ game every time on the field. (Lewiston and CdA) have state playoff experience. That’s the only thing they have over us. We want our seniors to finish out on a high note. We have a really good mix of kids.”
|GSL Predicted finish||4. Shadle Park||8. North Central|
|1. Mt. Spokane||5. University||9. LC|
|2. Ferris||6. Gonzaga Prep||10. Rogers|
|3. Mead||7. Central Valley|
|IEL 5A predicted finish||1. Lewiston||3. Lake City|
|2. Coeur d’Alene||4. Post Falls|
|IEL 4A predicted finish||1. Sandpoint||2. Moscow|