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Auburn Moutainview will look to hurlers, defense to defend SPSL 3A title | Baseball

Senior Brandon Williams works out at the Big League Edge training facility in Auburn. - Shawn Skager/Reporter
Senior Brandon Williams works out at the Big League Edge training facility in Auburn.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Reporter

Last season was a breakout year for the Auburn Mountainview baseball program.

Just four years old, the Lions won their first South Puget Sound League 3A title and qualified for their first trip to the state playoffs.

The Lions were bounced in the first round at state by Bishop Blanchet, but coach Glen Walker and the rest of the team are motivated to get back and go deeper.

“To win a league title in our fourth year, to get to play in state, it gives everyone the confidence and desire to go back,” said Walker, who was honored as the SPSL 3A co-coach of the year last season. “We set our goals lofty this year because of that. We expect to go back to state. Our goal is to win the league again, which is not going to be an easy road. Our focus is to get back to where we were and do something with that opportunity.”

On paper, the 2010 Auburn Mountainview roster looks well equipped to repeat as champion.

“I’m excited about our prospects,” Walker said. “We have guys in the right positions. We have four solid guys on the hill. We should be real tough to score against.”

The team lost several seniors to graduation, including SPSL 3A MVP Cody Hebner, who shouldered much of the work on the mound last season, as well as SPSL all-leaguers Michael Winters, Nathan Hostetter and Michael Fay. But the Lions return a strong core of experienced players, led by Washington State University-bound senior pitcher Brandon Williams.

“Brandon is doing well,” Walker said. “He’s hovering right around the 86 to 88 mile-an-hour range. He’s still got a little more left in his tank if we get into it. And he’s developed a change-up that is pretty nasty. It’s pretty tough to hit, and he likes to throw it in all different counts.”

At the No. 2 spot on the mound, the Lions will look to senior Steven Johnson.

“He’s a big, tall kid and strong,” Walker said. “As a junior, he has the ability to be a 90s or sub-90s guy.”

The team also will look to senior Jacob Phillips to throw for an occasional inning.

“He’ll be our No. 3,” Walker said. “He’s a great defensive pitcher, if he just pitches to contact. That allows our defense to work. He’s real tough coming off the hill making plays.”

At No. 4, the Lions will look to senior TJ Zabriskie to eat up some innings as well.

“Everybody is a year older, more mature and stronger,” Walker said. It’s just going to be whether we can bring enough runs across the plate.”

Although several positions in the field are sewn up – with sophomore Anthony Thompson ensconced behind the plate, newcomer Scott Ohashi starting at second base, Phillips and Williams sharing time at shortstop and senior Michael Patenaude in center field – many of the decisions on who will start will depend on the hitters.

“Our emphasis is on offense this year,” Walker said. “The guys who come to the plate with an approach and focus, those guys will be in the lineup.”

For leadership, the Lions will turn to captains Joey Morgan, Phillips and Williams.

“So far, they’ve all done a good job of leading the right way, which has been a focus for us in the offseason, getting guys doing the right things, promoting the right things and talking the right things,” Walker said. “The team itself is a lot closer than it has been in the past, which is nice.”

“The biggest thing about our team is coming together as a team,” Morgan added. “It may be the hitting that we need to work on, but that’s just stuff you work on in the field. But we need to be ready mentally as a team.”

With a blend of camaraderie, top-notch pitching, stalwart defense and some home run production, the Lions should be a pretty tough team to stop this season, according to Walker.

“Realistically, we have an opportunity to be pretty good and repeat as league champs,” Walker said. “But that being said, what you look like on paper isn’t always what happens. So we have to put some things together.

“(We) focus on the top-three goals, which is team unity, promote each other and respect each other. That’s the trigger right now to keep us moving in the right direction.”

Auburn Mountainview hosts Franklin Pierce at 6 p.m. today.

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