Baseball preview: Mary M. Knight fielding first varsity team in 25 years

Baseball is back for the Owls for the first time since 1988, so that means constructing a dugout, pitcher’s mound

mwochnick@theolympian.comMarch 27, 2013 

MATLOCK — For 25 years, the baseball field at tiny Mary M. Knight High School sat nearly vacant.

The sport vanished from the small, rural Mason County school 40 miles west of Olympia following the 1988 season when a lack of interest and dwindling success led to the program’s demise. Pick-up games and physical education classes were played on a field that became “unrecognizable,” freshman Emily Ackley said.

“It wasn’t even a field,” she said.

Ackley was one of 35 students — more than half of the school’s enrollment in grades nine through 12 — who responded positively to a school-wide survey in the fall to bring back baseball, organized by teacher Steve Powell and his leadership class.

In November, Powell, now the head coach, presented it to the School Board, which approved the addition of baseball as the school’s sixth sport.

The past few weeks have been groundbreaking for the 15 students — both boys and girls — who are on the Owls’ varsity baseball team.

“It’s really fun,” said Ackley, one of five girls on the team.

Principal and athletic director John Schultz said the eagerness to bring back baseball has been there since he took the job in 2011, with

talks beefing up in the fall.

Twenty-five percent of the school’s student body are on the team. This year, the high school’s enrollment is 61 students with a senior class of 15, up from six last year. Baseball joins track and field in the spring, football and volleyball in the fall, and boys and girls basketball in the winter.

Because the school does not offer fastpitch, the Owls are a co-ed team.

“That will be different,” senior Matt Oien said.

Powell and his assistant coach, Butch Carr, do more than coach. It’s all about back-to-basic fundamentals, everything from fielding ground balls to learning to play a specific position. The team often watches how-to videos on YouTube since some of the players’ baseball experience is limited.

“We have to teach them the game,” Powell said.

Equipment and baseball necessities seen at other high schools aren’t at Mary M. Knight — not yet, anyway. There are no batting cages or pitching machines. Under construction is a home dugout on the third-base side, as well as a pitcher’s mound. There are no outfield fences, and second base is in the east end zone of the football field.

The school district paid for the uniforms, which are a set of forest-green pullover jerseys with gray pants. Fundraisers have garnered nearly $2,000, money that will be used to purchase needed equipment such as bats and game-day baseballs.

While the players’ experience varies, Oien is one of the more veteran players. It’s his first time playing since his days in the Babe Ruth system, and it didn’t take long for the rust to wear off.

Oien, a left-hander who will see time at pitcher, first base and outfield, said the first few weeks have had their ups and downs.

“I wish we had (baseball) earlier,” said Oien, one of three seniors and one of three football players who were on the Owls’ 1B state quarterfinal team. “Some days are pretty fun, and some days, it sucks. It’s all right for the most part.”

Ackley’s background is in fastpitch, and had there not been a baseball team formed at Mary M. Knight, she said she likely would’ve played fastpitch for Elma. She noted the daily improvements of her teammates.

“I wasn’t very optimistic of how our team is going to be,” Ackley said, “but I think we’re going to do really good.”

Since the 1B Coastal League disbanded in January, the Owls and the rest of the teams in the league will play an independent schedule against 1B and 2B teams.

Powell’s coaching background includes coaching his son’s youth baseball teams. He said the strengths could be pitching, led by Oien. He’s already building for the future with more than half of his team being underclassmen.

“Maybe not this year or next year, but I could see us three years from now being a really good team,” he said.

PREP BASEBALL PREVIEW

FOUR STORY LINES TO WATCH

Can Olympia make a deep run?

Offense. Defense. Pitching. Olympia has it all to make a strong run in the 4A postseason. You can bet the Bears, who have won the past five 4A Narrows titles, want to put last year’s two-and-out showing at the West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament behind them. The Bears have six returning players who earned first- or second-team all-league honors, led by third baseman Gabe Padukiewicz (.426 batting average in 2012), and outfielders Joey Knight (.481) and Cameron Frost (.362), a WSU commit. Those six combined for a .396 batting average in 2012.

Will Lewis County be dethroned?

Since the 2A Evergreen Conference was formed at the start of the 2006-07 school year, no baseball team from Thurston County has won the league title. That honor belongs to Lewis County — W.F. West in 2008, ’09, ’11 and ’12, and Centralia in ’07 and ’10. If any team outside Lewis County has a shot, it’s Aberdeen. The Bobcats return nearly all of their starters from last year’s team that made it to the 2A regional, and while their offense can be inconsistent, their pitching isn’t. Their three aces — Reilly Fairchild, Charlie Dietrich and Collin Nord — make for a great rotation. Fairchild had a sub-1.00 ERA last season.

Toss-up: Timberline or North Thurston?

April 22 — that’s the date to circle on the calendar. It’s the second of a home-and-home set between the Blazers and the Rams with the 3A Narrows League title likely on the line. Both teams have quality pitching, led by Tyler Ridgeway (1.81 ERA, 64 strikeouts in 2012), Ryan Mets (2.53 ERA, 69 Ks), and Riley Storedahl (6-2, 43 Ks) for North Thurston and Matt Mercer (WSU commit as a sophomore), Josiah Julagay (Everett CC) and Derek Wells (Olympic CC) for Timberline. North Thurston is fresh up from Class 2A, where it won the 2A District IV title.

Welcome to the club

In addition to Mary M. Knight resurrecting its baseball program, Lacey’s Pope John Paul II High School, a 1B school, has started a baseball program. The Eagles will play an abbreviated schedule against area junior varsity and C teams, with home games at Dream Team Park, formerly Bucknell Park.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

P Tyler Ridgeway, North Thurston, sr.

P Jared Welander, Shelton, sr.

P Matt Mercer, Timberline, so.

P Brady Calkins, W.F. West, sr.

C Matt Zeutenhorst, North Thurston, sr.

OF Cameron Frost, Olympia, sr.

OF Devante Harris, Tenino, sr.

OF Brad Wallace, River Ridge, sr.

OF Garrett Terrell, Tumwater, jr.

INF Adam Meyer, Black Hills, sr.

INF Eddie Pablo, Yelm, sr.

INF Gabe Padukiewicz, Olympia, sr.

INF/P Kameron Minor, Capital, sr.

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 mwochnick@theolympian.com theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick mwochnick@theolympian.com

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