Tigers ready for run at zone, state
Last year, Douglas baseball fans couldn’t help but think about this year.
With talented juniors at nearly every position and nearly a dozen more in the dugout, it wasn’t hard to imagine the squad’s potential for success.
The Tigers, however, weren’t content to wait around for a whole season to prove themselves.
Douglas romped to a 24-10 overall season record and finished second in the Northern 4A conference. They also finished second at the Northern 4A zone tournament and advanced to the state tournament, where they lost twice.
And now “next year” is finally here.
“Last year was fun, but it makes it tougher this year to get back to that same level,” said DHS head coach Lars Baker, who was named Northern 4A Coach of the Year last season.
The experience of making it to the state tournament should only help the Tigers, Baker added.
“They can feel it and they can taste it,” the coach said. “They know what they’re on the verge of. The kids have been in the gym since Thanksgiving swinging the bat.
“They got a taste of the state tournament last year. They want the full plate this year. They don’t want to just make an appearance.
“It’s the old sports cliche about ‘sense of urgency.’ Spring is here. Graduation is right around the corner. We want to make our mark.”
The Tigers got off to a good start in their season-opening practice Monday. Baker and his assistant coach Larry Silveira were able to run situational drills with live hitting. The infielders and outfielders all seemed to know their responsibilities in a variety of situations and the batters did a good job of hitting behind runners and executing in bunting situations.
“That is really important,” Baker said. “We’re two weeks ahead of where we were last year because we have so many people back. We’re way ahead of where we’ve been in the past.”
The Tigers graduated two key seniors – Brady Ovard and Steven O’Brien – but have almost everyone else back. Ovard, who complied a 7-0 record, in now at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif. O’Brien, a clutch-hitting second baseman, is playing at West Hills College in Coalinga, Calif.
“We had great senior leadership, but many of the reasons for our success last year are back this year,” Baker said.
Trent Tholen was 6-1 as a junior. Baker expects Tholen to step into the role of No. 1 starter in the rotation and to start at second base on days when he’s not pitching.
The rest of the infield returns intact.
Bruce Jacobsen will start again this season at third base and will see some time in the starting pitching rotation. Kenny Nicoll is back at shortstop. Matt Tretton returns at first base. And catcher Tom Joyner will take care of the duties behind the plate.
The Tigers don’t have as much experience in the outfield, but they’re not weak there either.
Senior Joel Kruger started several games in right field last season and looks a lot stronger this year, Baker said.
Junior Kyle Wentz will take over in center field. He was a utility player on the junior varsity last season, but made a successful transition to full-time outfielder over the summer, according to Baker.
Three players are battling for playing time in left field: Nate Muren returns with some playing experience; Bobby Lee is a recent transfer from Whittell High; and Chris Murray is a junior who played JV last season.
Pitching also looks like it will be a strength for the Tigers.
Justin Ray was an all-conference pitcher last year. He posted a 3-1 record with three key saves.
Junior Jared Silveira played on the JV last year and likely will be Douglas’ No. 2 starter. He has very good velocity and can throw three pitches effectively, Baker said. Silveira will also fill in at third base when Jacobsen pitches.
Jacobsen figures to be the fourth starter in weeks when the Tigers play four games. He also could see some action on the mound in relief appearances.
“Bruce is one of the best athletes we have out there and you have to use you athletes where they help you most,” Baker said.
Steve Henricksen, Loren Uber and John Flagg all pitched in relief situations last season.
Noah Greer, Justin Connolly and Kyle Baker should also see time on the mound this season.
Senior Marc Garcia will fill the designated hitter’s role.
Johnny Mannelly, Richie French and freshman Shane Cauley, who broke his collar bone in snowboarding accident recently and is expected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks, will provide depth in the infield.
Trevor Crawford is the Tigers’ backup catcher. And Mike Saylo gives Baker another option in the outfield.
Senior Chad Cooke is working his way back from a knee injury he suffered early in the basketball season. Cooke earned the Tigers’ Team Player Award last season.