Olympia High baseball assistant coach Mark Zarate has been around South Sound high school baseball since the 1990s as a head coach and assistant. He’s seen — and coached — some of the best.
There have been phenomenal pitchers such as Olympia’s Adam Conley, now pitching in the Miami system with the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate, and Black Hills’ Bryan Millikan, an 18th-round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants as a high school senior in 2002 when Zarate coached the Wolves.
But offensively? He can’t recall a position player having a better season than Leo Valenti, The Olympian’s all-area baseball player of the year, did this spring for the Bears.
Valenti’s numbers were staggering: a .487 batting average with 39 hits, 29 runs scored, 23 RBI and 22 stolen bases.
“I’ve never had a player do anything like that,” Zarate said.
This season was the only time Valenti played shortstop, his natural position, on the varsity. That was because a guy named Cabe Reiten, now playing at Gonzaga, was a four-year starter at shortstop for the Bears. Valenti needed to find a different position until Reiten’s became vacant, so he played the other middle-infield spot — second base — in 2012. He soaked up all the knowledge he could from Reiten, a player known for his defensive play-making abilities, in turn becoming a better shortstop for his senior season.
“Just watching how he plays and how he carries himself,” Valenti said. “He made some amazing plays.”
As good as Reiten was defensively, the Bears knew they’d have another strong defensive
shortstop in Valenti, who was named 4A Narrows League MVP.
Olympia interim coach Greg Creighton puts Valenti’s glove work on the same level as his batting, noting his defensive skills “look effortless.”
“He goes all out, but he’s smooth and very fluid,” Creighton said. “He has very good body control and he understands the game very well. He positions himself (in anticipation) before the ball is pitched …”
Valenti, like many baseball players, has his superstitions, like not wanting to step on chalk lines. He doesn’t want to jinx himself by looking at his own statistical numbers; he stuck with that all spring.
The only stat he was curious about was stolen bases, where he hoped to break the school record. Not only did he set the single-season record for stolen bases, he added two more records: most hits and most runs scored.
“I did not predict that in my wildest dreams,” Valenti said.
Valenti switched between leadoff and the No. 2 spot in the batting order with Cameron Frost, who is bound for Washington State. Valenti doesn’t consider himself fast, but he was quick enough to steal 22 bases, while being caught just twice.
“It’s all about the jumps you get off the different pitchers,” said Valenti, who will join teammates Elliott Loague, who threw a no-hitter against Bellarmine Prep, and catcher Max Stottlemyre on the Pierce College baseball team next season.
Valenti’s said his determination to have a big season began when the players learned their coach, Todd McDougall, was diagnosed with brain cancer in December.
Valenti and his teammates’ thoughts were to dedicate their season to their coach, playing with the team motto “No quit.”
That dedication helped them win their sixth straight 4A Narrows League championship and got the Bears all the way to the Class 4A regional finals.
“That helped me work harder,” Valenti said, “and that hard work turned into results.”
The Olympian’s 2013 all-area baseball team
Player of the year: Leo Valenti, SS, sr., Olympia
Coach of the year: Jamie Weeks, Tumwater
P Ryan Mets, jr., North Thurston
Oregon State commit is known for his nasty breaking ball. Went 7-1 with 76 strikeouts in 49 innings, helping the Rams to a 3A regional berth.
P Elliott Loague, sr., Olympia
4A Narrows pitching MVP had season to remember on his first full year of varsity baseball. Recorded a no-hitter against Bellarmine Prep on his way to a 6-1 record with two saves and a 1.42 ERA.
P Tyler Ridgeway, sr., North Thurston
Ridgeway did it all — pitching (7-2, 0.88 ERA) and hitting (.420, 34 hits, 26 runs) — as the Rams’ leadoff batter. Named pitching MVP of the 3A Narrows, he helped the Rams get to the regional playoffs for the second straight year.
C Benny Kaleiwahea, jr., Timberline
Few baserunners had success with Kaleiwahea behind the plate. Her threw out 10 of 15 would-be basestealers and had a .992 fielding percentage. He also hit .333.
INF Brady Calkins, sr., W.F. West
The Bearcats rode the bat and arm of their right-hander — who was the 2A EvCo MVP — all the way to their second Class 2A state championship in four seasons.
INF Justin Graham, jr., Tumwater
The first baseman had a team-best .384 batting average and collected 28 hits in the Thunderbirds’ best season in school history (2A state runners-up).
INF Matt Mercer, soph., Timberline
The Blazers’ ace on the mound (4-1, 1.94 ERA) and otherwise their starting shortstop had a prolific sophomore campaign, hitting .444 with 24 hits and 23 RBI, helping them to the 3A Narrows League title.
INF Lucas Eastman, soph., Rochester
The Warriors’ second baseman was a tough out for opposing pitchers, hitting better than .500 for most of the season. He racked up 41 hits and had 15 multi-hit games.
OF Joey Knight, sr., Olympia
Errorless left fielder was a strong defensive presence in addition to his power at the plate. He hit .378 with a team-high four home runs and 23 RBI.
OF Devante Harris, sr., Tenino
Harris, who played center field for the Beavers, combined speed and power. He hit .514 with 34 hits, 34 runs scored and 25 stolen bases on a Tenino squad that finished third in Class 1A.
OF Garrett Terrell, jr., Tumwater
The Santa Clara commit helped carry the T-Birds on his back to the 2A state championship game. He went 7-3 on the mound, including 3-0 in the postseason, with a 1.26 ERA and 76 strikeouts while hitting .377 with a team-high 29 hits.
DH Cameron Monda, sr., Capital
Moved from infield to catcher this spring, Monda hit .422 with three home runs and 25 RBI, leading the Cougars to a late-season run to qualify for the 2A District IV tournament.
UT Brad Wallace, sr., River Ridge
Few matched the speed Wallace had in the outfield and on the basepaths. He hit .470 with 31 hits and scored 20 runs. He also went 2-2 on the mound with a 0.72 ERA in six starts.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick email@example.com