Hot Liberty, Hazen collide in early non-league action
April 10, 2008
By Jim Feehan
Liberty and Hazen high schools are off to fast starts, leading their respective leagues going into April.
Hazen was undefeated in Seamount League play in March, going 4-0. Liberty handed Hazen its only loss in March when the Patriots shutout the Highlanders 7-0 in the nonleague season opener for both teams. Liberty lost to Skyline 1-0 March 31, but remains in first place in the KingCo League with a 4-1 record and 5-2 overall.
Pitching and defense will back Hazen’s dream of diamond success, while Liberty hopes to be in the mix in the talent-laden KingCo League. KingCo teams have won nine of the past 11 3A titles.
Patriots could surprise
Liberty’s strength this spring could be up the middle. The Patriots will see the return of a solid catcher in Chandler Tracy, a strong double-play combination in shortstop Eric Peterson and second baseman Troy Colyer, and pitcher-center fielder Jaron Iwakami.
Patriot coach Scott Colby said he looks for Tracy to respond with a strong season.
“Offensively, his numbers were down as a junior after starting as our designated hitter his sophomore season,” he said. “We’re looking for his numbers to really jump this season.”
Tracy batted .327 and drove in 13 runs last season.
Colby said he believes Tracy is a college prospect. However, besides catching and hitting, the Patriots look to Tracy for leadership, too.
“He is the heart and soul of our team,” Colby said. “He is one of our leaders.”
Underclassmen Peterson and Colyer are returning starters and among the Patriots’ better hitters.
“Eric is one of the better shortstops in the league,” Colby said. “He is a quality kid and a good athlete. Troy has all the tools to be an outstanding player.”
Peterson earned all-KingCo first team honors last season, not as a shortstop but as a designated hitter. He led the league in hitting with a .519 average and also topped KingCo with nine doubles.
Senior Justin Johnson is another key returning player. He hit .364 last spring.
“He is one of our top five hitters. He will take on a utility role this season,” Colby said. “He will play in the outfield when Jaron pitches and will play in the infield.”
Iwakami, with outstanding speed and range, is one of the league’s better outfielders.
“He can fly in outfield,” Colby said.
Iwakami will also be Liberty’s leadoff hitter. He hit .326 last spring and ranked among the league-leaders in runs scored (15) and walks (13).
Lefthander Iwakami is one of the pitchers the Patriots are counting upon this season.
Freddie Wilhelm, Brendan Jeffers, John McLeod and Andrew Pittman are other pitchers.
“We’re looking for a lot of innings from those guys,” Colby said.
Liberty’s pitching staff surprised last year, compiling a 3.22 earned run average that ranked third, before Bellevue (2.02) and Issaquah (3.02).
Liberty went 9-8 in league last year and had a 12-9 overall record.
In the last two years, the Patriots have been eliminated in the KingCo tournament by the eventual state champion. For two years, it was Newport. Last year, it was Issaquah.
“We hope to reverse it this year,” Colby said.
New faces playing at Hazen
What the Hazen baseball team lacks in experience, it makes up for in camaraderie.
Last year’s squad had 12 seniors on its 15-player roster. This year, it’s a little different. The Highlanders feature three seniors on the roster, but one of those seniors, C.J. Waite, will miss a majority of the season after contracting mononucleosis.
“We’re hoping the closeness will overcome the newness,” said Chris Chiechi, Hazen’s head baseball coach. “They’re real young and real hungry kids. A lot of them played select baseball during the summer.”
Senior pitcher Nathan Bunch, who is among the top seven pitchers in the state, leads the Highlanders. He’s also captured the attention of several Division 1 schools, including the University of Rhode Island, Brigham Young and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Chiechi said.
“Nathan has a really strong arm,” he said. “When Nathan pitches, we expect to win every game he starts.”
Bunch won first team All-Seamount League honors in 2007.
Justin Jacobs is the Highlanders No. 2 starter. The junior will split time with junior Kyle Nation at catcher when he’s not pitching. Bo Worgan and Derek Cline, both juniors, and sophomore Nick Sharp round out the Hazen pitching staff.
Hazen has no returning outfielders. Cline, Worgan and Sharp will all play outfield when they’re not pitching. Sophomores Anthony Pina and Austin Menges join them.
“With this all new outfield, we’re trying to figure out who will play where and when,” Chiechi said.
The infield is led by returning shortstop Kevin Schwab, a Seamount League honorable mention selection in 2007.
“He’s a really solid infielder,” Chiechi said of the junior midfielder. “We’ll also bat him third or fourth a lot.”
Sophomore John Wall anchors the other half of the middle infield at second base.
“He’s a solid infielder who bats left-handed and as a batter likes to go the other way,” Chiechi said.
Bunch will play third, when not pitching, along with sophomore Brenden Campbell and junior Chase Gordon.
Slick fielding Ryan Anderson, the squad’s third senior, rounds out the infield at first base.
Hazen went 7-8 in league last year and had a 8-12 overall record.
Mount Rainier is the team to beat this season in the Seamount, followed closely by Highline and Lindbergh in that order, Chiechi said. Hazen and Kennedy should battle for fourth in the league.
“I think we’ll make the playoffs, but you’ve got to love the aggressiveness of Mount Rainier and Highline,” he said.