Prep Baseball & Softball

Squalicum confident after breakthrough season

Squalicum shortstop Ernie Yake drives a ball during the Class 2A state semifinals Friday, May 29, 2015, in Yakima. Yake will be one of the Storm’s key pieces this spring
Squalicum shortstop Ernie Yake drives a ball during the Class 2A state semifinals Friday, May 29, 2015, in Yakima. Yake will be one of the Storm’s key pieces this spring The Bellingham Herald

Two years ago Squalicum’s big turnaround arrived. Last year the Storm made a memorable run to Yakima’s final four and earned a third-place Class 2A finish.

This spring John Inge’s team will be tasked with evolving Squalicum baseball from an upstart to a mainstay.

“We had such a confident bunch the past couple of years,” Inge said. “Those guys that are gone were very confident, and I think it has rubbed off on the whole program and the seniors this year.”

That’s a big reason why team leaders Connor Sage and Ernie Yake don’t anticipate any drop off this year in spite of graduating nine seniors a year ago.

In fact, the pair have witnessed a cohesion amongst this year’s group that perhaps didn’t exist a year ago.

“I’d say we are more of a team and have more chemistry,” said Yake, who has established himself as arguably the league’s best defensive shortstop. “Everyone just seems like they are on the same page, and we do stuff as a team.”

Togetherness might very well be the key decider of whether or not Squalicum can recreate last season’s success. With Sage and Yake as the Storm’s only two legitimate returning starters, players with minimal varsity experience will have to start contributing right away.

Likely candidates include Ben Wolters, Bunji McLeod, Will Nickelson, J.P. Pacheaco and Jack Boysen.

“We got a lot of seniors that have been waiting their turn and are pretty hungry,” Inge said. “We are still a veteran team.”

But there’s no doubt both Sage’s and Yake’s performance will be critical to the team’s success. Sage, a left-handed pitcher who pounds the strike zone, delivered an unbelievable season last spring, posting a 9-0 record with a 0.58 regular-season ERA and a 0.66 postseason ERA.

The left-hander pitched behind staff ace David Stealy and Harper Moore, but this year Squalicum will need the senior to emerge as the team’s No. 1.

“I’m definitely excited, and I love that role because I always want to pitch in the big games,” Sage said. “The ace title is a cool thing, and I’m definitely excited to take that on this year and hopefully don’t disappoint. I hope I can live up to it.”

He should get help from Wolters and Nickelson and junior Sam Moore. Each are expected to eat up innings. Even Yake could chip in on the mound.

But Inge admitted he’d like to keep his all-NWC first-teamer anchoring the left side of the infield as much as possible.

At the plate Yake should be a force, too. Last year he was a terrific lead-off man, but during the offseason he worked out in the weight room every morning and has added some extra hitting power.

“It wasn’t just me,” Yake said. “I was trying to get others like Connor, Ben and J.P. They got in there. ... I’ve always been driven to play the highest level of baseball, and so I guess I realized my weaknesses and did something about it.”

With success comes more notoriety, and Inge said, for the first time in years, he had to cut kids from the program due to the large number of athletes turning out for baseball. While that’s not the case everywhere in Whatcom County, there’s no doubt baseball is thriving at Squalicum.

Five pitchers to watch

Kyler Schemstad, Ferndale, Sr.

Schemstad is a crafty lefty who had a great season last year and again will be the Golden Eagles’ ace. He posted a 5-1 record with a 1.75 ERA last spring, and there’s no reason to believe he again can’t put up those numbers.

Connor Sage, Squalicum, Sr.

Sage might not be able to replicate last year’s numbers, but that’s because he put together an unbelieveable statline going 6-0 with a 0.58 ERA in the regular season and 3-0 with a 0.66 ERA in the postseason. Now he’s the team’s unquestioned ace and should be in line for a great season.

Jonathan Starcer, Blaine, Sr.

Starcer headlined the Borderites’ rotation last year and was a big reason for Blaine’s impressive season. With the hard-thrower returning, Blaine again could be poised for a big season.

Derek Campfield, Meridian, Sr.

The big left-hander turned in a fine season last year and will be counted on to lead the Trojans this spring. Any time Campfield is on the mound, he gives Meridian a great chance to earn a win.

Felix Zavisubin, Sehome, Jr.

Surely the Mariners will need Zavisubin to have a big season, as he steps into the lead role on Sehome’s pitching staff. Jake Albert and Leif Anderson are graduated, but Zavisubin last year showed what he’s capable of, and the right-hander should have another good season.

Five hitters to watch

Austin Shenton, Bellingham, Sr., SS

The University of Washington commit can flat-out hit. He just might not get much of a chance to display that given the volume of free passes he receives. But Shenton is worth the watch, and will be the central piece to Bellingham’s lineup.

Jordan Wittenberg, Lynden, Sr., SS

Wittenberg isn’t far behind Shenton, if any, in the hitting department. The Seattle University-bound shortstop will be a force in the Lions’ lineup and brings a whole lot of speed to the basepaths.

Owen Wright, Sehome, Sr., C

Wright hit for a .424 average last year and was pivotal out of the Mariners’ No. 3 hole. He’s big time for Sehome’s pitching staff and will drive in his share of runs this spring.

Ernie Yake, Squalicum, Sr., SS

Most know of Yake’s outstanding defensive play. He’s usually good for at least one jaw-dropping play a game. But coach John Inge raved about how much stronger he’s gotten, and surely that will help him turn some of those singles into extra-base hits.

Matt James, Ferndale, Jr., DH/C

James made a huge impact for the Golden Eagles last year and established himself as one of the Northwest Conference’s top young hitters. He showed an ability to hit for power and posted a .417 batting average.