Sports

Spring sports preview: Baseball

SPSL BASEBALL AT A GLANCE

• FAVORITE: Kentridge.

• CONTENDERS: Kentwood, Kentlake, Tahoma, Jefferson.

• NOTABLE: The North Division returns only two hitters who finished among the top 10 in batting a year ago — Jefferson’s Kylle Ashton (.519) and Kentridge’s Matt Thiesen (.489). Behind Thiesen’s bat, the arm of Danny White (22 strikeouts in 24 1/3 IP a year ago) and the smarts of University of Washington-bound catcher Brady McGuire, the Chargers likely are the team to beat. ... Federal Way will hopefully be led by senior Heath Hart. The senior pitcher/catcher has been injured all three previous seasons. “He should be our No. 1 pitcher and best catcher. If he can have a healthy year, he should be able to play at the next level,” said Eagle coach Danny Graham. Also back for Federal Way are Shane Elliot (IF/OF) and Mike Vlahovich (IF)...Jefferson’s strength should be its pitching depth. Jordan Beers, Taylor Stark and Derek Voigt will be the Raiders top three. Drew Staples and Andrew Jones, both lefties, should also see some time on the mound. Offensively, the Raiders hope to use their team speed to put pressure on their opponents. “I have pushed this group of players harder than any in 27 years of coaching,” said TJ coach Mike Church. “They have met the challenge. The talent is there. The experience is there. It is now up to the players to assert their will on the stage.” ... Decatur should improve on last year’s 6-8 record in the SPSL North under second-year coach Maury Kincannon. The Gators get back big left-hander Alex Baily, who missed last season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery on his elbow...Though Tahoma graduate a slew of talent, including five kids now competing at the Division I level, the Bears remain strong thanks to a strong junior varsity team that will move up this season. Tahoma catcher Cory Ferguson, an honorable mention selection last year, ranked 12th in the league in hitting last year (.448) and should step up among the league’s elite this season. Ferguson should get plenty of help, too, from outfielder/pitcher Kyle Conwell (.424 batting average last year) and outfielder/pitcher Chris Marangon. ... Kentlake coach Jason Evans believes this could be the school’s finest team since 2005, when the Falcons last qualified for the state tournament. There’s reason for excitement, too, as the Falcons return pitcher Tyler Walsh (2.13 ERA last year) and will bring up sophomores Doug Christie and Zack Wright, both of whom are currently throwing in the 80s. Kentlake’s pitchers also will have the benefit of working with third-year starting catcher Marcus Evans. ... Kentwood should have plenty of offense with second baseman Travis Long (.357 average), Nick Zografos and Tyler Weinbrecht, both of whom were among the league leaders in doubles last year. To remain one of the North’s top teams, however, the Conquerors will need to get big innings on the mound from Weinbrecht along with newcomers Tom Breakfield and Alexander Lee...Beamer lost a lot from last year’s team, including All-SPSL South first-teamers Dustin Martin, Matt Hart and Cole Bixenman. Junior Brian Corliss will be one of the better players in the South at shortstop and on the mound. The Titans also bring back senior outfielder Justin Lee.

• OUTLOOK: It will undoubtedly be an interesting year in the SPSL North as most of it’s top-tier talent graduated. Kentridge’s Thiesen, a senior, is the North’s lone-returning first-team all-leaguer. And only five second-teamers return — Kentridge’s White (pitcher), McGuire (catcher), Spencer Graham (third base), Justin Miller (outfield) and Tahoma’s Kyle Conwell (outfield/pitcher). With that being the case, the Chargers open the season as the overall favorite. White brings plenty of experience to the mound, but will need some help for Kentridge to win its first league title since 2003. Beamer should compete in the SPSL South, but the division should be very solid from top to bottom. Graham-Kapowsin won the league title a season ago, followed by Curtis and Puyallup.

FIVE TO WATCH

NAME SCHOOL POSITION YEAR

Matt Thiesen Kentridge Outfield Senior

Note: A mainstay in the program’s outfield, Kentridge spark plug can swing it with the best of ‘em.

Brady McGuire Kentridge Catcher Senior

Note: Second-team all-leaguer a year ago will play at the University of Washington next year.

Tyler Weinbrecht Kentwood First base/pitcher Senior

Note: Big kid is just as much a force on the baseball diamond as he is the football field.

Marcus Evans Kentlake Catcher Senior

Note: Third-year starter will bring a veteran presence to a young pitching staff.

Kyle Conwell Tahoma Pitcher/outfield Junior

Note: Had offseason shoulder surgery. When he gets to 100 percent, look out.

CIRCLE ON THE CALENDAR

Kentlake at Jefferson, March 25: Jefferson has plenty of bats and will be a factor in the race. This will be a nice early-season test for the Falcons and their new-look pitching staff.

Federal Way at Kent-Meridian, March 28: Kent-Meridian didn’t win a league game last year, but is expected to take a step up. If that’s the case, this is a game they’ll need to win.

Tahoma vs. Kentridge at Kent Memorial Park, March 28: The league’s defending champions (Tahoma) against this year’s favorite (Kentridge).

Kentridge vs. Kentwood at Kent Memorial Park, April 8: The Conquerors always put a winner on the field while Kentridge has the bats to do some damage.

Tahoma at Kentlake, April 23: This showdown in the final week of the regular season could have plenty of playoff implications.

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