Baseball swings back into action

In the Midwest, the high school baseball season starts in the summer, when there’s finally consistent heat. There are different cues for the start of the season in the Pacific Northwest.

“I go by frog mating season,” said Tahoma head coach Russ Hayden. “When they start croaking, I know it’s right around the corner.”

The South Puget Sound League 4A North baseball season swings into action this weekend. The perennially powerful Kentwood Conquerors lost their all-everything catcher, but are primed for a run at repeating as division champions, returning seven starters. But head coach Mark Zender said the key to the squad’s continued success is the program’s depth.

“Our kids have to compete just to play,” Zender said. “That’s the No. 1 thing — that nobody is guaranteed a spot. If you let up at all in practice, you’re not starting. It’s really that simple.”

An experienced Tahoma group also expects to contend, but has a deeper inspiration this year. Senior Connor Johnson died in a vehicle accident on Feb. 15. Hayden said the Bears have dedicated the season to their beloved teammate, who was expected to be one of the team’s key relief pitchers.

“We want to make sure our kids realize that baseball is not life,” he said. “The most important thing is our health, life and our family. Baseball is a game.”


Outlook and goals:

Kentwood finished fourth in the 2013 state tournament after winning the state title in 2012. The Conquerors finished atop the division in 2013 with a 14-2 division record, 19-5 overall. Zender said the team’s goal is always to win the state championship.

“Everything else takes care of itself,” he said. “We have a very good team, but also play in a very, very good league. There are several teams that can compete at the highest level.”

What to expect:

Even without star player Reese McGuire, who was drafted 14th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2013 MLB draft, Zender said he expects to field a team that gives full effort and a fun, competitive spirit. Zender said there is no way to completely replace a player like McGuire.

“Reese provided premier talent no doubt, but extraordinary leadership which continues to influence a bunch of guys in positive ways,”he said. “Nobody works harder than Reese or loves the game more than him. Our guys experienced that with him and now know first-hand how to approach the game.”

Top returners:

Kade Kryzsko (Senior) – A three-year starter who pitches and plays infield.He earned 4A SPSL North 1st team honors in 2013.

Spencer Greene (Senior) — Centerfielder in his third year on the varsity squad.

Mike Ciancio (Junior) — First baseman coming off a SPSL North 2nd team award in 2013.

Kramer Sims (Junior) – Returning starter from the middle infield.

Cory Wabinga (Junior) — Pitcher and outfielder who was named to the honorable mention list for SPSL North in 2013.


Chandler Arends (Senior) – Returning from injury to pitch and play third base.

Jake Roes (Junior) — First baseman and pitcher.


Outlook and goals:

After starting a relatively young group of sophomores and juniors in 2013’s campaign that landed the Bears with a 10-6 division record, 13-8 overall, they return with a veteran group of only upperclassman. Hayden said last year’s goal was to reach .500. This year, they are aiming for a top three finish in the division and to make the final four in state.

“Baseball is a funny game,” he said. “Get to the playoffs and anything can happen.”

What to expect:

Hayden said he has a solid offensive group that won’t hit with much power, but should get on base plenty and be a proficient run scoring machine. His pitching rotation goes six deep, and despite a brand new middle infield, expects solid defense.

“Our pitching staff is going to be strong; can we play defense for our pitchers,” he said. “Sometimes I’m not the most optimistic person, but this year I am pretty optimistic that we should do well. I could see us going to state and making it to the final four. Our goal is to play through May.”

Top returners:

Shane Nelson (Senior) — Leadoff hitter and centerfielder who batted .406, including 11 extra base hits, in 2013.

Nate Brown (Senior) — Started at first base for two seasons without making an error; batted .404 in 2013.

Tyson Cronin (Junior) — Third baseman who batted .400 in 2013.

Christian Saez (Junior) — Will be near the top of the pitching rotation after posting a 3.04 ERA in 2013, while also batting .379.

Brandon Fokkema (Senior) — Earned five wins on the mound last year and also hit .500.


Derek Browne (Junior) — Pitcher-first baseman combo batted .545 for JV in 2013 and sported a 0.91 ERA.

Jake Malone (Junior) — Middle infielder with a consistent swing, batting .375 for JV in 2013.


Outlook and goals:

After finishing sixth in the division during the 2013 season, 6-9 in division, 7-10 overall, head coach Brett Jaime said the team’s goal is, as always, to finish in the top half of the league and make the playoffs.

“Having said that, though, we are not really concerned with wins/losses, as those are a by-product of the process,” he said. “It’s our goal to have the best practices possible. That means that we have a lot of energy, attention to detail and that we constantly compete and strive to be the best we can be.”

What to expect:

Jaime said his squad will play the game with passion, hustle and “freedom.”

“They will be prepared and whatever happens, happens,” he said.

Top returners:

Brock Ross (Junior) — Primary offensive threat who lead the team in hitting in 2013. Vying for the starting shortstop position.

Riley Higgins (Senior) — Bouncing back from injury, expected to be captain of the outfield and an offensive spark plug.

Austin Sisley (Senior) — Highly skilled pitcher who Jaime said “could be dominant.”

Matt Mollenberg (Sophomore) — Batted .308 as freshman and will challenge for the shortstop job.

Jordan Axelson (Senior) — Jaime called him a gritty competitor and offensive weapon.


Ethan Lewitt (Sophomore) — Solid all-around player with potential for a breakout offensive season.

Darrian Rodriguez (Junior) — “Perhaps the top-athlete on the team,” Jaime said. “He has 5-tool potential.”




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