Pitching, defense will be key to local baseball teams’ success

March 13, 2012

By Matt Carstens

Ethan Kalin, an Issaquah High School senior this year, advanced two baserunners with an at-bat in April 2011 during his team’s game against Skyline. By Greg Farrar

As the clocks spring forward and the calendar flips to March, the Issaquah, Skyline and Liberty high school baseball programs will all have a common approach to this season: pitching and defense.

With the new bat regulations for the upcoming season, first-year Liberty Coach John Martin thinks the game is in for a change.

“I think it’s great,” Martin said. “I think scoring will be down, I think batting average will be down also. But it should lead us back to a traditional game where it’s not so much of a slugfest and a home-run derby.”

The new bats, in addition to the pitching surrounding all three schools, looks to keep the scoring to a minimum this spring.

A familiar face

The new head baseball coach at Liberty High School isn’t a complete stranger to his new team. Martin is returning to Liberty after a few years as an assistant at Auburn Mountainview. Prior to that, Martin was the pitching coach at Liberty from 2001-2008.

“When the opportunity came to return to Liberty, which is where I live and where my kids went through school, I jumped at the opportunity and was successful at getting the nod,” Martin said. “Interestingly, my seniors this year were my freshmen the last time I was here. It’s like I’m coming back to a familiar environment from the school and the administrators, but most of the kids are all new to me.”

Martin looks to implement what he calls his “baseball absolutes.”

“Whatever you do, the fundamentals need to be there and they need to be believed and confirmed,” Martin said. “I have what I call my absolutes, things that the Liberty baseball program will do.”

After the fundamentals are confirmed, Martin said his approach would be more minute than a complete overhaul.

“It’s not my intent to bring in a wholesale change, at least not in the school season, for a multitude of reasons. The main one is on performance improvement. Usually, you get worse than you were originally, then after you finally get used to that change then you climb to a higher plateau,” Martin said. “In those cases, if we implement a change to a kid’s swing, he’ll be getting better around June 2, which is after the state championship has been played. I’ll be looking for small things to help the kids become a little bit better, not to break them down to ground zero and start all over.”

According to Martin, pitching will be Liberty’s key strength thanks to its big three —seniors Ben Wessel, Monte Korsemoe and Isaac Styskal.

Some position players to look out for include middle infielders junior Gerrett Hughs and sophomore Loren Archibald.

Archibald is a “younger kid that’s has some pretty good fundamentals right now,” Martin said. “But of course needs to get better continually. He’s the only sophomore I have on the varsity squad. He’s someone to watch going forward.”

Eagle’s pitching returns

While last season was full of growing pains, Issaquah head coach Rob Reese said he saw a lot of improvement and is looking forward to a strong season.

“Last year was probably one of our least successful years as far as wins and losses go, but there was a lot of development,” Reese said. “The year before that, we lost 15 seniors. So we had three seniors on the team last year and that’s all that was left in the program. It was just a weird class that had dwindled from their freshman year to their senior year, thus we were left with a lot of young guys.”

It didn’t help that the young eaglets were in a league of fierce competition.

“The league was really, really good last year,” Reese said. “They had some pro guys pitching, there was probably six or seven Division I pitchers in the league, so it was probably the worst year possible to have a bunch of young guys hitting against that type of pitching.”

Reese said he hopes that now some of that pitching has moved on, his hitters will have matured enough to face the next crop of competition.

The biggest positive going into this season for Reese is the return of his entire pitching staff.

“We return our entire pitching staff so that will be one of our strengths,” Reese said. “Brandon Mahovlich’s back, Ethan Kalin is back on the mound, he should be one of the top left-handers. And all of our relief pitchers are back.”

Reese is also inheriting a transfer from Las Vegas, Justin Vernia, who should make the Eagles starting rotation.

The one hole in Reese’s lineup that he is looking to fill is at shortstop, where his starter Jake Bakamus is out with an ACL injury he acquired playing football. Reese said he should be able to return to the field sometime in April.

Growing leaders at Skyline

To coach Chris Tamminen, roster turnover is just the nature of the beast in high school baseball.

“We definitely lost some seniors,” Tamminen said. “We definitely lost some leadership, but that’s every year. That’s going to happen. You just hope that the kids that get an opportunity the following year learned something from last year’s kids and they get a chance to see what they can do for themselves. You’re always going to have the turnover — that’s just a given.”

One player that Tamminen is looking for to step up in the leadership role is senior catcher Jimmy Sinatro. Sinatro is planning to go to Gonzaga on a baseball scholarship next year and looks to be one of the top hitters for the Spartans.

“I think he knows our pitching staff pretty well from summer ball and high school,” Tamminen said. “I think he’ll be definitely one of our leaders. I just hope collectively our seniors will, whether they get a lot of playing time or not. They’re good guys.”

Draft watch

According to ESPN.com’s Jason Churchill, Issaquah’s right-handed pitcher Mahovlich and Skyline’s southpaw Connor Gilchrist are both candidates for this year’s MLB draft.

“Neither player above is a first-day candidate nor an early day two guy,” Churchill said in an interview. “But somewhere between rounds eight and 16 make sense, and they both are low-to mid-Division I types.”

Churchill also mentioned Skyline’s right-handed pitcher and outfielder Brandon Fisher, first baseman Nick Kassuba and left-handed pitcher Clayton Huber, as well as Issaquah’s left-handed pitcher Kalin and catcher/right-handed pitcher Andrew Kemmerer as other players that could have draft prospects.

Matt Carstens: 392-6434, ext. 236, or ip-sports@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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