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Auburn Mountainview baseball brothers Cassano, Friis go separate ways
For more than a decade, baseball has been a big part of their lives.
From the moment they first picked up bats and gloves as youngsters, Tyler Friis and Joey Cassano have been inseparable teammates. As competitive, all-around good athletes, they formed the foundation of many of their teams – from Little League to the summer select season, from fall camps to high school where they were part of Auburn Mountainview's 3A state championship in 2013.
Their love for the game was a connection, a passion.
"When I was little, I remember telling my dad I wanted to switch teams and play with Tyler," Cassano said.
"We've played together since coach-pitch (play)," Friis added.
For many seasons, Friis and Cassano occupied the same middle infield, one driven by the other. As friends and teammates, they looked out for each other, expecting the most of each other.
But now, as graduating seniors bound for top college programs, each is preparing to go his separate way.
Friis, one of the area's top shortstops, has signed to play at Indiana State University in Terra Haute. The Sycamores, who qualified for the NCAA regionals this season, were led by senior shortstop Tyler Wampler, a candidate for the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award, which honors the nation's best player at the position.
Cassano, a standout second baseman and pitcher, will play baseball and football at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., a Division III power. Cassano posted big numbers as a wide receiver last fall for the Lions, attracting the interest of colleges.
The separation begins this summer. Friis will hone his skills playing select ball with the Seattle Stars. Cassano returns to the Puget Sound Roxx.
Friis and Cassano have come far in baseball. Once considered just average players, they blossomed with hard work, good coaching and family support.
"We weren't real good until the middle of high school," Friis said.
"In Little League, I was just the short and chubby guy," Cassano replied.
"I wasn't that good, either," Friis added. "The start of select ball is when we started to get pretty good."
"I grew a bit and thinned out, that's what helped me," Cassano said.
"I started working harder and got better coaching," Friis said.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Friis, once the team runt, grew into a quick, fluid shortstop, with a solid bat and glove. Cassano, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder, is an explosive player with big-play ability.
Each leaves his mark on the Auburn Mountainview program,
Friis wraps up his prep career with a .343 batting average with 55 varsity games played. He had 46 hits, with 24 RBIs, seven doubles and a triple. He scored 40 times, stole 23 bases (including 18 his senior year) and finished with an .839 on base percentage.
Cassano, who made the varsity team as a freshman, finishes with a .292 batting average with 29 RBIS, seven doubles, three triples and a home run. In 209 at-bats he had 61 hits and scored 63 times. His on-base percentage was .806.
Despite their impressive individual stats, Friis and Cassano point to the Lions' magical title run last spring as the highlight.
Friis said that it took awhile for the 2013 squad to get going and gain the confidence needed to win a state title.
"I think as soon as we started having a lot of comeback wins when the playoffs started, then you just knew," he said.
"That team just fit together perfectly, everyone got along," Cassano said. "It was like a family."
"There was a lot of chemistry," Friis added.
After clawing its way into the state title game with several come-from-behind wins, the Lions cruised to victory in the title game with a 7-1 win against Seattle Prep.
For Cassano, the win was the highlight of his career.
"It was indescribable," Cassano said. "I remember I almost passed out on the bottom of the dog-pile."
"Joey threw the last pitch, so we all went and mobbed him," Friis said.
This season, the Lions came up short in the district playoffs.
"I personally just wanted to have a good year and lead us back to the state championships again," Cassano said. "I just wanted to be a good leader. But the season didn't really turned out how we wanted."
"My goals were the same, just be a good leader and prepare and help the team to get back to state," Friis said. "And to prepare for college ball."
Despite a disappointing end to their senior season, Friis and Cassano will always savor 2013.
"I'm sure, looking back, our junior year will be the one we remember," Friis said.
And although the pair won't get a chance to play with each other this summer, they'll be able to play against each other.
"We play baseball literally every day," Friis said. "We'll play each other three or four times this summer before heading out."
What does Cassano do well. What does Friis do well? The Auburn Reporter asked them to assess each other's game.
"I'd say Joey doesn't really have a weakness," Friis said. "He's good all-around. He's very solid and reliable."
"With Tyler, I'd say whatever you do, don't hit him a ball; he's the best defensive shortstop I've seen," Cassano said. "He's also extremely fast and steals a lot of bases. He's a tough out."