Although his team took a hit from graduation, Oak Harbor High School baseball coach Tyson VanDam believes his team can contend for the Western Conference 3A North pennant this spring.
Eight players, all major contributors, graduated last spring when the 11-11 Wildcats finished second in the North (10-7). Still, Oak Harbor returns eight lettermen and a handful of others who helped the Wildcat Legion team put in solid season last summer.
"We have a good group coming back," VanDam said.
Returning are letter winners Brent Mertins, Danny Wolfe, Teddy Peterschmidt, Clay Doughty, Brandon Bailey and Casiano Atienza.
VanDam said seniors Nate Stanford (designated hitter), Rhys Mattila (first base) and Jozef Mendoza (first base/pitcher); junior C.J. Meders (DH/third base); and sophomores Kevin Johnson (infield/pitcher) and Tyler Snavely (third base/pitcher) are the key newcomers.
Stanford and Meders are coming off shoulder injuries but are ready to play, VanDam said. Stanford missed all of last season while hurt.
Marysville-Pilchuck looks to be the favorite in the North, according to VanDam, but he sees his club as a definite competitor: "I like us to be in the top two."
Pitching depth is one of Oak Harbor's strength; VanDam has nine he can turn to if needed.
Also, the Wildcats are "fundamentally sound defensively" and "the top half should hit well," VanDam said.
"We lack overall team speed," VanDam said, "and we need to find another catcher."
Wolfe will be the starting catcher, but he is also expected to be in the starting pitching rotation, VanDam said, and Oak Harbor will need to find someone to handle the catching chores when Wolfe takes his turn on the mound.
The first week of practice went well, according to VanDam, and he is specially pleased with the leadership: "The kids are productive even when the coaches aren't around. We are definitely ahead of last year."
Oak Harbor begins the season with three non-conference games, starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, with Arlington at home.