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Mercer Island baseball back at bat
Last week brought one of the first days that the Mercer Island baseball team was able to head outside for practice. Cold and wet weather, however, haven’t dampened the team’s enthusiasm for the new season. The Islanders — who had the program’s best ever finish last year, making the second round of the state tournament — return as a core group that is more confident and ready to start swinging.
“We are more confident,” said captain Evan Thompson, explaining that after last year’s state loss to Columbia River, the returners know what it takes to make it. Other captains include Jordan Richartz and George Jiranek.
“This year we have a good group coming back, captains especially, who have an understanding that we have to step up, as well as be supportive and help out the new guys, who are getting an opportunity to play varsity for the first time. It’s a good opportunity for all those guys,” said second year head coach Cory Smith.
Smith said he expects the team to hit well this spring, with power in the middle of the line up.
“Offensively, we’re a very capable hitting team,” he said.
The team also returns two pitchers from last season, Max Dammeier and Jiranek.
“Both of those guys had very successful season last year and we’ll kind of look to them,” said Smith.
A change in the scheduling this year in KingCo means the league matches won’t start until almost the end of March, giving teams plenty of time to sort out roster placements, as well as any kinks in their lineups.
“The one nice thing about this season with the change is that our league schedule starts later,” said Smith. “We have six non-league games this year and they are all in March, so it gives us an opportunity to really figure out who is going stand up and who is going to be a starter. So when we do get into league we are really prepared and we go from there.”
Once those league matches do kick off, the Islanders will be ready for the Lake Washington match, waiting to see how the Kangs do in the 3A league.
“They played in a very difficult league last year in 4A,” said Smith. “I know they have some very talented players.” The captains also have Mount Si and Liberty circled on their calendars, the two teams the Islanders shared the KingCo crown with last year.
In order to make it out of the league games and reach the team’s goal of winning KingCo and heading to the start tournament, Smith said the team will have to focus mentally on themselves.
“With the core group coming back we know we can do it, so that’s going to be a huge factor for us, the middle infield is kind of up in the air right now because of some injuries we’ve had and losses to graduation,” said the coach. “I think our league will continue to be strong – we may see a little bit of a shift as far as who challenges for the top, but you never really know until you go out and play games.”
So far the team is managing expectations, but they admit there is some pressure.
“These kids are smart and they know. They see what we have back and know what to expect. I think every kid in high school, or especially just baseball players, expect oh we’re going to win every game and we’re going to win KingCo championship and that’s no different here,” said Smith. “With us, I think we have good chemistry because we have so many guys coming back. I think just between that and the good leadership we have it’s going to be a very competitive year. We use anything we can to try and motivate these guys to get better and I think after the success we had last season we have a little more of a target on our backs. I’m not going to say we’ve established ourselves as a front runner or anything like that, but I think people will probably have one of their better guys on the mound ready for us.”
Mercer Island will travel to Lake Washington on Friday, April 8, and will host Liberty on April 13.
3/16 at Newport
3/22 at Mountlake Terrace
3/24 vs. Franklin
3/26 at Bothell
4/4 vs. Juanita
4/6 vs. Mount Si
4/8 at Lake Washington
4/11 at Interlake
4/13 vs. Liberty
4/15 vs. Bellevue
4/18 at Sammamish
4/20 at Juanita
4/22 at Mount Si
4/25 vs. Lake Washington
4/27 vs. Interlake
4/29 at Liberty
5/2 at Bellevue
5/4 vs. Sammamish