Deep Rotation Makes Bearcats the EvCo Favorite
By The Chronicle
Everyone in the Evergreen 2A Conference is chasing the Bearcats, and it’s no mystery as to why: W.F. West sports two Washington State University-bound pitchers in Tyson Guerrero and Brandon White, and that’s just the tip of the crimson-and-grey iceberg.
“It starts and ends with them,” Centralia coach Rex Ashmore said. “They not only have dominant pitching, but they’re deep in pitching, and they’ve got kids that just compete every day, and that have a wealth of experience at the varsity level.”
The Bearcats are coming off a season in which they went 22-3 and lost the State 2A championship game to Ellensburg. With seven seniors on the roster, they’re naturally hungry to get back to Yakima — but don’t expect to simply walk through the season.
“We haven’t set too lofty of goals. We’ve always been a ‘one thing at a time’ (team),” Bearcat coach Bryan Bullock said. “Our first goal is just going to be to get to the state tournament, if we’re fortunate enough to get to that weekend of regionals. You’ve got to get a lot of breaks.
“But I think the kids know,” he added. “They feel like they left something out there last year, and I think they really want to get there.”
The Bearcats certainly didn’t open the season at full strength. Guerrero, the reigning EvCo MVP, missed the opening doubleheader at Anacortes to take the SATs; White, a 6-foot-8 righthander, threw less than two innings on Saturday, exactly a week after starring on the Bearcats’ state finalist basketball team; outfielder Camden Bull’s return date from a broken wrist is still up in the air; and Dakota Hawkins, a starting pitcher for four years and perennial All-League pick, isn’t expected to be back in the lineup on a regular basis until spring break after an ACL injury suffered during football season.
“I think I like a lot of our pieces, and I like a lot of our talent and ability,” Bullock said. “As we’ve shown this weekend, the challenge is going to be getting all the pieces and talent to play together as a team and compete together. It’s going to be a work in progress.”
Daniel Fagerness, a righthanded junior, is expected to be the Bearcats’ third starter, with junior lefty Brock Jones — kept off the mound for most of last season with a back injury — and senior righty Gabe O’Neil coming out of the bullpen.
“They’ve really worked hard on arm strength, and molding their craft,” Bullock said. “But by far, it’s the deepest, when healthy, pitching staff for a high school team that I’ve been a part of.”
Guerrero, a standout center fielder, is back at the top of the lineup, with senior first baseman Nole Wollan, Jones and, eventually, Hawkins providing pop in the heart of the order.
Sophomore Josiah Johnson will start the season at shortstop, and classmate Leandre Gaines moves into the lineup at third base.
“Those are two kids that have talent, and they definitely have the ability,” Bullock said, “but they’re going to have to step up and prove it at the varsity level for the first time.”
Junior Lane Douglass and freshman Drew Reynolds are competing for the starting catcher spot.
“We’ve got a nice core coming back, so the expectations are high, but hopefully we’re going to rise up to those expectations this year,” Bullock said. “I think we found out last weekend it’s not going to happen just because we show up.”
Centralia’s strength this year is expected to be pitching, with a bevy of right arms from which to choose.
Senior Broc Selstrom returns and should be joined at the top of the rotation by sophomore Jeremy Wood. Seniors Jerod Frias and Mason Titus, and sophomores Derek Beairsto and Jackson Hull, will also see plenty of time on the mound.
“Those are the guys that we envision, but it’s a long season, and there are some young kids that are itching to get up with the varsity as well,” Ashmore said. “It’ll be real interesting to see how it plays out as the year goes. Wood, Beairsto and Hull are three sophomores we have a lot of confidence in, and they’re pretty confident kids.”
The Tigers, though, don’t have a lot of varsity innings under their belt. Frias played catcher last year, but Kolby Sharp (second base) and Nick Stulken (designated hitter) are the only other returning starters.
“We’re not a young team, but we definitely lack varsity experience,” Ashmore said. “We’ve got a lot of young kids that are going to push for some playing time, and we’re not one to sit around and wait just because our seniors are seniors.”
Wood, Sharp, Frias, Selstrom and Colby Steele will make up the heart of the lineup, while Wood will move into the starting shortstop role when he’s not on the mound.
Rochester is expected to improve on last year’s rain-stunted 2-14 season, with senior pitchers Cole Wintrip and Ethan Worden anchoring the rotation. Lefty Keegan Goldrick and Bryce Lollar, both juniors, join the rotation, and Bodey Smith should see time on the mound, coach Brad Quarnstrom said.
“It’s a strength, just from an experience standpoint,” Quarnstrom said of his pitching staff. “I think this year we’re going to be deeper on the mound. We have guys that can throw strikes consistently.”
Sophomore shortstop Jared Winters moves into the leadoff role, and catcher Tyler Soderback — who homered in the Warriors’ season-opening win over Tenino — adds a big bat to the lineup after missing last year with an injury. Smith, another sophomore, will be the Warriors’ utility man.
“I feel like we’ve improved a lot,” Quarnstrom said. “If nothing else, for whatever reason, this group has something going for them in that they get along — and part of that has been due to the weather.”
With last year’s rain, he said, his team only practiced outdoors three times all season; they’ve doubled that this year. The goal for the year, he added, is to make the postseason.
“I think we’ve got a crew that we can do that with,” he said. “The kids are working hard, and believe in themselves, and believe in each other.”
Black Hills returns All-League pitchers Kristian Knight and Ashton Perry, as well as All-League outfielders Ethan Loveless and Bryce Kincy, from last year’s 14-9 squad and is expected to be the Bearcats’ biggest challenger for the top spot.
“They return quite a bit, and just the way they play the game — so fast, without a care in the world — they’re definitely a scary team,” Ashmore said.
Tumwater brings back All-League outfielder Logan Hayes but will be working in mostly new pitchers, though the T-Birds reportedly had a huge turnout for baseball this year, and Aberdeen is working in new players but welcomes back athletic All-League catcher Kylan Touch.
Coach: Rex Ashmore (fifth)
2017: 13-12 (lost in districts)
Returning Starters: Jerod Frias (Sr., P/IF), Broc Selstrom (Sr., P/1B), Kolby Sharp (Sr., 2B), Nick Stulken (Sr., DH)
W.F. West Bearcats
Coach: Bryan Bullock (fourth)
2017: 22-3 (second in state)
Returning Starters: Nole Wollan (Sr., 1B), Tyson Guerrero (Sr., P/OF), Brandon White (Sr., P), Dakota Hawkins (Sr., P/IF), Camden Bull (Sr., OF), Max Miller (Sr., OF), Cyrus Bunker (Jr., IF), Brock Jones (Jr., P/OF)
Coach: Brad Quarnstrom (third)
Returning Starters: Rylee Sommer (Sr., OF); Joel McCarthy (Sr., 2B); Cole Wintrip (Sr., P/OF); Ethan Worden (Sr., P/OF); Bryce Lollar (Jr., 3B)
1. W.F. West
2. Black Hills