Sports

Oak Harbor heads to district on winning streak | Babe Ruth

Kamren Mebane settles under a pop up in a game last week. - Jim Waller / Whidbey News-Times
Kamren Mebane settles under a pop up in a game last week.
— image credit: Jim Waller / Whidbey News-Times

After a sluggish start, the Oak Harbor Babe Ruth baseball team is hitting its stride at the right time.

Oak Harbor, which began the season by losing six of its first eight games, recently rattled off six straight wins to up its record to 8-6 heading into the district tournament at Burlington’s Rotary Fields.

It opens district play at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, against Burlington. Oak Harbor enters as the fourth seed; Burlington is seeded third.

The second round of the five-team, double elimination tournament is at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 26.

The Oak Harbor Babe Ruth program was started 20 years ago to develop players for the high school team, and first-year coach Pete Richter is following that philosophy: “Ultimately, we strive to prepare players for success at the high school level.”

The makeup of the Babe Ruth league changes each year but usually features teams from area cities such as Anacortes, Stanwood and Burlington, and offers a level of competition above intra-city leagues.

Richter is looking to increase participation. At one time, the Oak Harbor program included three teams; recently it has struggled to field one.

“For the program to get stronger,” Richter said, “we need more players interested to be part of this team early on. We hope to spark a desire in younger players, 9 to 12, to be on this team. We need more committed players and parents to fill the open spots that happen every season as the players move on.”

When the season started, according to Richter, the first task was to get enough players 13 and 14 years old on the roster in order to compete against other teams, and, within those numbers, have enough talent to be competitive.

Once the roster was filled out, Richter said, the goal changed to improving play: “Now, we expect the kids to perform better than when we first got them; even minor improvements every day is what we strive for.”

Richter’s coaching philosophy is centered on fundamentals, “coaching proper technique and readiness to execute on the field.”

He and his staff, assistants Shawn Trisler and Jake Neumiller, emphasize understanding the game and knowing what to do before the pitch is delivered. They also stress communication: “Teammates talking only helps the boys know the game.”

“At this age,” Richter said, “we want to teach the love of the game, keep it fun and toughen them up before they transition to high school baseball.”

The slow start this year can be attributed to several areas, according to Richter. It took some time for the players to learn a new system and for the younger players to adjust to playing on a full-sized diamond.

“The team got better with more practices and time together,” Richter said. “They soon learned that they had the talent to compete at this level.”

Once the fundamentals and confidence were in place, the team went on its winning streak.

The team includes 14 players; five are from Coupeville.

The 14-year-olds are James Besaw, Will Danielson, Drew Eaton, Josh Margraf, Kamren Mebane, Mackenzie Nuanez, Hunter Smith and Chris Trisler.

Thirteen-year-olds Thomas Anderson, Gabe Eck, Ty Eck, Caleb Fitzgerald, Joey Lippo and Jake Pease round out the roster.

Smith, Lippo, Pease and the Ecks are from Coupeville.

The Coupeville kids “have been great,” Richter said.

“They need a Babe Ruth team to play on and we need the numbers, so it was beneficial for all. I think that it helps because the kids get to make friends with players that they would normally not get the opportunity to know.”

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