Baseball: Huskies’ big bats gone, but returnees ‘good’ on D, at plate

Sean C. Morgan

Returning six players, four of them seniors, Sweet Home’s baseball team will be missing some of last year’s firepower in baseball this season, but the Huskies return as a well-rounded team.

Seniors Justin Tow and Brandon Keenon return for their third year on varsity, which, weather permitting, opens at Siuslaw Wednesday, March 16.

Returning for their second year are seniors Jake Long and Desmond Ely and juniors Keanu Aiona and Daniel Virtue.

They are joined by senior Tyler Plebuch, who played as a freshman; juniors Ryan Krause, Kobe Olson and Devin Stafford; and sophomores Nick Marler and Austin James.

Tow, Virtue and Keenon were regular starters, while Ely started at third, depending on who was pitching. Long also started some games.

The team graduated six seniors, including Joe Salsberry, Brett Blachly, Kevin Seiber, Cole Ashcraft, Hunter Jutte and Colyn Van Eck.

“We’ve had two good weeks of practice,” said Coach Dan Tow. “We return some talented guys. I like our team. I think we’ve got some good pitching, some good hitting.”

Last year’s Huskies were probably the best offensive team he’s seen in the past 20 years, Tow noted.

Sweet Home may not have quite as much up and down the line this year, he said, but he’s expecting some good hitting while relying on good defense.

“We certainly have some new faces,” Tow said. “But we’re experienced in the infield. I think we’re a pretty well-rounded team.”

Aiona picks up for Blachly at catcher this year, Tow said. He caught all summer, and he’s talented.

The most inexperience is in the outfield, Tow said. Virtue and Long will both play out there, but when Virtue is pitching, Long will have two new varsity players out there with him.

Ely will play at third. Justin Tow will play at shortstop. Keenon played at second last year. He’ll play there again this season, but Olson will also spend time at second.

Stafford and Plebuch have been handling first base, Tow said, and there could be other possibilities there.

“Devin will be on the mound a lot, at least he should be,” Tow said. Positions will generally depend on who is pitching.

The team hasn’t set goals yet, Tow said, but “we always want to compete for the league title. We’re competitive, and we have a good baseball group.”

That goal will continue to be difficult “until someone can upset Sisters,” Tow said. They’ve won the league title three, four, five years, maybe more.”

Sisters beat the Huskies all three times they met last year, finishing 13-2 in league. The Huskies finished second in league with a record of 11-4. Elmira was the only other team to beat the Huskies, and the game was close, a 4-3 loss.

The Outlaws’ only league losses came against Cottage Grove and Elmira.

Sisters has lost a few seniors, Tow said. Even though the team doesn’t get the big numbers out, it always comes up with great players.

The Outlaws will return the best pitcher, a sophomore, in the league; and Tow expects to face him two out of three games this season.

Others are in the mix as well.

“Elmira is always very competitive,” Tow said, but the Falcons lost a few seniors.

Cottage Grove should be tough, returning a bunch of good players, Tow said. “There’s not going to be an easy game.”

Junction City wasn’t very strong last year, but is returning a lot of seasoned players.

Sutherlin finished last, but it’s a well-coached team. Last year, the Huskies almost didn’t make it in one game at Sutherlin, getting out of town with a 6-5 win.

Last season, the Huskies beat Marshfield 6-3 at home in the play-in round, then lost to North Bend 7-4 in the first round of state playoffs.

Josh Blachly and John Best return this year to assist Tow.

Corey Hanks was unable to coach junior varsity this year, and Tomas Rosa has taken that role. He is assisted by Drew Emmert.

Mike Carpenter continues to coach the JV2 team.

The junior varsity includes juniors Codie Brown, Jonathan Elder and Nick McIntyre; sophomores Keegan Holly, Gerad Romero, Fisher Anderson, Dylan Laster, Takoda Turner, Kenneth Stiles and Keegan Schuster; and freshmen Nathan Virtue and Colton Smith.

The JV2 includes freshmen Matt Taylor, Dylan Clark, Hayden McDonald, Dakota Seward, Terron Kopperud, Levi Baird, Deshane Salas, Micah Stewart, Nate Jeppsen, Austin Oakley, Trevor Justham, Kohl Peterson, Austin Olin and Nate Powers.