Brian Munhall had an inkling.
The Gonzaga Prep coach had reason to be optimistic going into the season. The core of his team played on a AA American Legion team that went 17-2 last summer, qualifying for the state tournament.
The Bullpups didn’t waste any time sending a statement to the rest of the Greater Spokane League. They knocked off Mt. Spokane, heavily favored to win the league championship, rallying for three runs in the seventh for a 6-5 win in a league opener. They followed it up with a 6-3 win over the Wildcats.
In pulling off the sweep, the Bullpups handled Mt. Spokane’s top three returning pitchers – Carson Blumenthal, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Alex Allard.
“I’m not super surprised,” Munhall said. “I knew we had learned how to win and compete last summer. (Last spring) we didn’t have the ability to come back. There won’t be any ballgame that we’re out of now. We’re pretty pleased right now. The boys are playing well.”
In the middle of G-Prep’s 4-0 start have been senior Conner Slater (7 for 11, .636), junior Matt Miller (12 for 22, .545), sophomore Kane Ulrich (8 for 15, .533) and senior Connor Smith (9 for 17, .529). Miller has hit three homers including a grand slam.
“It still hasn’t landed,” Munhall said of Miller’s blast at G-Prep in Saturday’s 19-1 win over Rogers.
Miller also has a team-leading 16 RBIs and is 1-0 with a save on a deep pitching staff.
Freshman left-hander Justin Blatner, in his first varsity start, threw a five-inning no-hitter in the win over Rogers.
2 teams undefeated
Through essentially the first week of league play, just two GSL teams remained unbeaten – G-Prep and Shadle Park (4-0).
At least one will have a loss after this week, if not both. They meet today at Shadle and Thursday at G-Prep.
“They will be a good challenge,” Munhall said of the Highlanders. “They had a good summer like us. They’re deep on the mound, too.”
Senior Danny Rowton is off to a blazing start for the Highlanders, hitting .818 (9 for 11) with three homers, 10 runs and seven RBIs. A three-year starter at shortstop, Rowton went 3 for 3 on Saturday, including two homers, three RBIs and two runs. He hit a leadoff homer on the game’s first pitch.
“The numbers are surprising this early, but he has great dedication and works hard,” Shadle coach Ron Brooks said.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Rowton didn’t hit a homer last year.
Shadle has been led on the mound by junior lefty Nick Bettinson. He is 2-0 and hasn’t allowed a run in eight innings. He also has nine strikeouts.
“Things are going well,” Brooks said. “We were so young last year. They’ve put in a lot of time. Things are falling in place right now. They’re playing hard and they’re fun to watch. They’re starting to believe in themselves.”
Wildcats will be OK
Mt. Spokane coach Alex Schuerman wasn’t concerned that his team opened by getting swept by G-Prep.
“We got off to a rough start for us,” Schuerman said. “I give a lot of credit to Gonzaga Prep. They swung it well. They beat our best guys (pitchers). They have good pitching. I knew they’d swing it well, but they swung it one through nine really well. They didn’t get cheated.”
Mt. Spokane, which lost nonleague games at Moses Lake and No. 1-ranked Richland, put the brakes on an 0-4 overall start by sweeping Central Valley.
“We’ll come back,” Schuerman said. “Our kids are pretty resilient. They have high expectations. There’s a lot of season left.”
Mt. Spokane lost 17-6 at Richland, last year’s 4A state runner-up that has captured four state championships in the last 12 years, three in the last six.
“They’re as good as advertised,” Schuerman said. “They just reload.”
Mt. Spokane faces off today and Thursday against University, which is tied for third with Ferris at 3-1.
Expect a tight race
Sure Mt. Spokane was picked to win the GSL, but the way the GSL coaches see it, play should be competitive all season.
“The league’s good top to bottom,” Ferris coach Jim Sharkey said. “We’re going to see a lot of teams beating each other up. It’s really wide open. I wouldn’t be shocked at any score that shows up.”
Shadle’s Brooks agrees.
“This league is going to get wild,” Brooks said. “Those preseason picks are always fun and create interest. But in high school sports, be prepared for the unexpected.”
Said Mt. Spokane’s Schuerman: “I think the top of the league is as good as it’s been in a while. The league champ could have three or four losses.”
This ’n that
Ferris senior lefty Spencer Ansett is 2-0 with both wins coming against Mead.
Because of a rainout, Sharkey was able to stretch Ansett’s rest by a day and give him both starts against Mead.
“We want to pitch him against the 4A teams as much as possible,” Sharkey said.
• Clarkston (4-1) leads the Great Northern League followed by Deer Park (2-1), two-time champ Cheney (3-2) and Pullman (3-2). Each team plays each other three times.
Pullman has been led by senior Jeremy Druffel, who is batting .471 with eight hits and eight runs. Senior righty Nicky Scourey is 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA. He has 10 strikeouts in 12 innings.
• Coeur d’Alene won its first six before losing to Rocky Mountain of Meridian in a nonleague game Saturday at Lewiston.
CdA has been led at the plate by Matt Lambert (.476, 10 of 21) and pitchers Jake Pereira (2-0, 0.80 ERA) and Nathan Collier (2-0, 1.00).