Sports

Bond of Brothers: Tight-knit senior class leads Oak Harbor baseball team

Bond.

Jump into a conversation with an Oak Harbor High School senior baseball player,  and that word will pop up like a Texas leaguer.

Oak Harbor, once a power-house among regional high-school baseball teams, has struggled the past decade. The class of 2011 plans to put some shine back on the program.

Practice for this season began Monday, and a core of seven seniors will form the heart-and-soul of coach Tyson VanDam’s team. The class of 2011 includes Ryan Byrne, Justin Counts, Josh Evans, Yale Rosen, Jay Stout, David Tillotson and Sam Wolfe.

The group is experienced and talented.  Wolfe owns three varsity letters; and Byrne, Evans, Rosen and Stout have two each.  Outfielder Stout is a two-time, all-Wesco first-team player. Fellow outfielder Rosen joined Stout on the first team last spring, and Wolfe, the Wildcats’ other outfielder, was a second-team choice. Rosen, Evans and Stout have already been awarded partial scholarships to play college ball next year.

Last season the Wildcats played in their first post-season games since 1994, winning a play-off game to reach a play-in game with Shorewood to determine the final entry into the district tournament. The Thunderbirds won 3-2.

This season would not be a success, the seniors said, if Oak Harbor fails to make the district playoffs.
They are doing their best -- and have for the past 12 months -- to make sure the Wildcats make a trip to the playoff promise land this spring.

Off-season work has honed their skills, but they said something intangible is the group’s strength: their bond. Words like bond, brotherhood, connection and chemistry kept creeping into the conversation when discussing what makes the heart of this class pump. The seniors have been working on that link since they began roaming the City Beach Little League fields years ago.

Counts said, “We have a bond. We have been around each other since elementary school. We know each others’ strengths and weakness, and that’s a plus.”

Byrne added, “We have been playing together for 10 years.”

Rosen said, “With our level of maturity, we work well together.”

Tillotson said, “It’s just a chemistry thing...we know each other so well we know how to pick each other up.”

Evans said, “Last year we really came together. This is our last year and we are going to click together.”

Wolfe said, “We trust each other. If we get behind or lose a couple of games, we have faith that we will come back.”

The class’s cohesiveness is blended with a strong work ethic.

VanDam said, “This senior class is special in that the whole class has taken it upon themselves to not allow this team to quit, whether that be in the weight room or open gyms or during last summer. They are a well-motivated group.”

Rosen said they are a group of “hard workers,” and Tillotson added, “We all played in the off season; we have all been dedicated to getting better.”

The seven played baseball for the Oak Harbor Legion team last summer and attended numerous camps throughout the off season. They also worked out at baseball academies in Seattle and Bellingham and took part in workout programs offered by Edmonds and Skagit Valley Community Colleges. Most played on fall-ball teams out of Seattle or Skagit Valley.

To further their conditioning, four competed for the Oak Harbor High School swim team this winter. Rosen, a long-time swimmer, convinced Byrne, Evans and Counts to give it a try. The others found it so rewarding they plan to continue to hit the pool to stay in shape.

Counts said, “In the past we noticed what great shape Yale was in when baseball started. He was always out in front in the conditioning drills. We want to get in that kind of shape; we want to set a good example for the other kids, to have the other kids look up to us.”

So what will the team’s togetherness and work ethic yield?

Tillotson said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we went to state.”

Counts added, “I don’t think state is a bad goal for to set for us.”

One thing is for sure, they will find out together.

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