BASEBALL PREVIEW: Eagles hoping to get another shot at a state title

The Federal Way Eagles did something a lot of other teams across the state didn’t do last year: The Eagles advanced to the state semifinals and played inside the friendly confines of Safeco Field.

But Federal Way finished third and didn’t accomplish its final goal of bringing home another state championship. However, it looks like the Eagles might have the firepower to get back to the state tournament this season.

Head coach Danny Graham returns several key members of last year’s squad, including all-everything shortstop Nick Tanielu.

The Washington State University-signee had another monster season last year for Federal Way.

Tanielu finished second in the South Puget Sound League North in hitting with a .548 batting average. He led the league in runs scored with 26 in 16 games, walks with 17 and stolen bases with 12. Tanielu also had 12 RBIs, five doubles, one triple, three home runs and struck out only twice during the entire SPSL season.

Also returning are All-SPSL performers like Austin Webber, Brett Evans and Drew Cratsenberg, among others.

Last year, Webber hit .467 with 19 RBIs, 19 runs, two home runs and two doubles for the Eagles. He also belted two home runs during the Eagles’ win over Shorewood in the state third-fourth game at Safeco Field.

Webber stole nine bases in 10 attempts and was a first-team, All-SPSL North selection as an outfielder. Webber also finished 3-0 on the mound with three saves and an earned-run average of 3.27.

Evans, a catcher, hit .404 during the regular season with 11 runs scored, 14 RBIs, one double and two home runs. Evans also had four stolen bases and Cratsenberg, an outfielder, hit .280 with 14 runs and 14 RBIs.

The Eagles did, however, graduate three key cogs in last year’s successful machine in Terin Beck, Elliot Morris and TJ Horsfall. Morris led Federal Way with 20 RBIs and four home runs, Beck hit .340 with 10 RBIs and seven doubles and Horsfall chipped in four home runs during the Eagles’ postseason run. Morris and Horsfall were also two of the Eagles’ top pitchers a season ago. Horsfall was 7-1 and Morris finished 6-2 during the season and both won huge postseason games.

Federal Way will also be moving out of the rugged SPSL North this season and will be playing in the South Division. This means the Eagles won’t have to deal with the defending state-champion, Kentwood Conquerors, and other perennial powers like Tahoma, Auburn and  Kentlake during the regular season.


Jefferson Raiders

Joseph Townsend takes over for longtime coach Mike Church and inherits a lot of talented baseball players. The Raiders finished 15-8 last year and advanced into the postseason.

Townsend will be counting on returners Dylan Cooper and Oakley Murphy to provide leadership and offense for the Raiders. Cooper, an infielder, hit .263 with 11 RBIs and 10 runs during last year’s SPSL season. Murphy, an outfielder, finished with a .424 average with seven RBIs and three doubles.

“Their leadership will help guide us through the tough times,” Townsend said.

Jefferson will also rely on returners Steven Sonnenfeld (.333, 4 RBIs), Peter Bennett and Tyler Zumwalt. Townsend is also very high on freshman shortstop/pitcher Niko Delacruz.

“We have what I truly believe will be the best freshman in the SPSL,” Townsend said. “And he will be thrown to the wolves at the hot spot of shortstop.”

The biggest weakness for TJ this year is most likely the inexperience on the pitcher’s mound. Cooper is the only returner who threw more than one inning last season for the Raiders. As a junior, Cooper didn’t allow an earned run in 6 2/3 innings and struck out five. Bennett threw one inning and gave up two hits and a run. The rest of the TJ staff should also include Sunnenfeld, Zumwalt and Delacruz.

“With a first-year head coach and a young group of varsity players, we will try and take the opposition by surprise,” Townsend said.


Beamer Titans

By their standards, the Todd Beamer Titans had an off-year a season ago. The Titans finished just 9-11 on the season after developing into one of the better programs in the SPSL South over the past few years.

Head coach Jerry Peterson is hoping to change that this season.

The Titans return several players, including plenty of offensive firepower.

“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” Peterson said.

Back are senior infielders Jeff Apigo (.372, 9 RBIs, 3 HRs, 6 2B, 14 runs) and Mac Gridley (.354, 13 RBIs, 7 runs), juniors Richie Apigo (.390, 13 RBIs, 9 runs), Brett Oyer (.208, 6 runs) and Sam Kosbab (.250) and sophomores Daniel Lee (.375, 3 RBIs) and Jarred Prather (.278, 5 runs).

Beamer will also get some help from newcomers Lawyer Braun (OF) and Ryan George (utility).

On the mound, the Titans are looking to junior Matt Bower to take over as the staff ace. The junior has already committed to play in college at the University of Washington, according to Peterson. Last year, Bower finished 1-2 during the SPSL regular season with a 4.40 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings.

Peterson will also be counting on Jeff Apigo (1-1, 4.74 ERA), Richie Apigo (0-2, 7.20 ERA) and newcomers Alan Brandt and Dallin Havili to provide some pitching depth.

“This could be a good year if the pitching develops,” Peterson said.


Decatur Gators

The biggest change for the Gators this season is the league they will be playing in. Decatur is now in the SPSL 3A Division and will be playing against powers like Peninsula, Enumclaw and Auburn Mountainview.

Despite switching leagues, head coach Maury Kincannon is looking forward to the season. The Gators will feature a fairly young and inexperienced group.

“We have a lot of new players to our program, but I am very optimistic with this year’s team,” Kincannon said. “One thing I can say is this team loves to compete. Where that takes us, we will just have to wait and see.”

The Gators finished just 4-12 in the rugged SPSL South Division last season, but several players gained valuable experience on the varsity level, especially on the pitching staff.

“Pitching this year looks like our strength as long as the arms stay healthy and we also have some depth,” Kincannon said.

The Gators’ pitching staff will, most likely, be led by senior Zach Jacobs. Last season, Jacobs finished with a 3-2 record with an impressive 2.23 earned-run average. He also threw a no-hitter for the Gators.

Decatur will also get the services of senior Christian Miester, who missed most of last year with an arm injury, and Romiro Ponce.

The Gators need to improve on the offensive side from a season ago. Decatur hit just .224 as a team during the SPSL regular season and scored only 39 runs in 16 games.

Kincannon will be counting on sophomore first baseman Tyler Finnseth to provide some spark. Last year, as a freshman, Finnseth hit .314. Jacobs (middle infield), Miester (OF) and Ponce (infield), along with newcomers Mitchell Ciotta (utility), Kyle Robbins (catcher) and freshman Brandon Zimmerman (middle infield) will also provide some offensive depth for the Gators.

“We are pretty young this year with a possibility of three freshmen starting for us,” Kincannon said. “So it may take some time for them to adjust to the varsity level of play. We only have four starters returning from last year’s team, so there’s a lot of holes to fill.”