A fresh start for baseball

By Matt Phelps' email='

Most programs and varsity teams have to adjust and relatively begin anew each season. Almost everything will be new for the Mercer Island High School varsity baseball team with the exception of head coach Doug Williams and assistant Jason Koehler.

"It is always exciting to start fresh," said Williams. "We have all new faces."

In fact, not one of the players started a varsity game last year.

"We have a good core that knows how to play," said Williams. "Last year was frustrating with all the injuries we had, so in a way it is nice to start over."

The Islanders looked more like a mobile hospital last season than a ball club. Three players suffered season-ending injuries, and seven players had injuries that forced them to miss multiple games.

"We have worked harder during the off season with the weights to cut down on those injuries," said Williams. "But thankfully seasons like last year don't happen all the time."

Part of the injuries from last year included infielder Hunter Beaty. The junior, broke his back last season, but is ready to play after a frustrating season in '04. With the loss of 13 seniors to graduation, it will be easy to put the squad's 6-12 in-league record from 2004 in the past.

"It is a whole different ball game," said senior Sam Selby. "This is a young team."

The Islanders' strength this year is infield defense.

"We should have a great defense," said Williams. "It will be a fun club to watch."

Kenny Kim, Beaty, junior Jordan Culpepper, freshman Matt Rowe and Selby will be on the infield defense.

The defense will have to be good since Mercer Island has very little varsity experience on the mound. Selby, a senior, has just three innings of varsity experience and he leads the staff heading into the season.

"We have to trust the defense and not be afraid of varsity hitters," said Selby.

Other pitchers of note are sophomore Robby Philbrick, senior Aaron Locke and junior Spencer Slaven.

Behind the plate, trying to help his staff to figure out varsity hitters, will be senior catcher Alex Gamoran.

"(Gamoran) is just an incredible team leader," said Williams. "And Selby is our infield leader."

"All the pitchers played summer ball," said Gamoran. "We have a great defense, so they just need to pitch to that strength."

Gamoran and Selby will be joined by Kim in the middle of the batting order.

Kim will play first base. Anyone who saw him play football knows he has a lot of power.

"They can hit the long ball," said Williams. "The middle of the lineup should be pretty good."

Williams said that his freshman class is strong and that one or two may make varsity this year. "All the kids will get an opportunity," sad Williams. "It doesn't matter how old they are. We have a lot of youthful enthusiasm. It doesn't matter who they are playing, they just want to have fun. The future is incredibly bright."

But for the seniors on the team the future is now and they have set some lofty goals.

Playing in the toughest league (3A KingCo) in the state, the seniors want to make the playoffs. But with teams like Liberty, Issaquah and Mount Si -- which are three of the best in the state -- standing in the way, it will not be easy. "We 10-runned Issaquah last year, so we know that it is possible to beat these teams," said Selby. "We have great chemistry on this team. Everyone gets along."

If they can accomplish that goal, it will be the first playoff run since 1998 for Mercer Island in baseball.

Info box Head coach: Doug Williams (third year)

Assistant coaches: Jason Koehler and Todd Daniels.

Last years record: 6-12 in-league, 8-12 overall.

Key athletes: Jr. Hunter Beaty (IF), Jr. Kenny Kim (1B), So. Robby Philbrick (P/OF), Sr. Sam Selby (P/IF), Sr. Alex Gamoran (C), Sr. Derek Baer (OF), Sr.

Mike Keller (OF), Jr. Jordan Culpepper (IF), Sr. Aaron Locke (P), Fr. Matt Rowe (IF), Jr. Spencer Slaven (OF/P) and Jr. Brian Kitamura (OF).

Key newcomers: same as above.

Key losses: Eric Thompson (IF), Derek Hubbard (P/OF), Duncan Schnoor (OF), Danny Gonzales (2B), Josh Corson (C), Clark Fredricksen (P) and Jeff Matthews (P/OF), Rand Goldman (P), Mac Dudley (C), John Dixon (P), John Hollowed (1B), Chris Orr (IF), Mike Mueller (P) and Sr. Noah Morey.

Key games: Issaquah, Liberty and Mount Si.

First game: 4 p.m. Monday, March 21 at Rainier Beach.

Key to a good season: Finding consistent pitching.

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