Huskies enter season aiming to make run in baseball playoffs

Sean C. Morgan

Returning eight players, a deep, flexible Sweet Home High School baseball team is looking to win the Oregon West Conference championship in its inaugural season in the league and make some noise in state playoffs this year.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Coach John Best. “It’s been a little frustrating not being able to practice every day (due to cancellations for snow).”

Departing last year, due to graduation, were Keegan Holly, Fisher Anderson, Nick Marler and Austin James, but the Huskies return seniors Colton Smith, Nate Virtue, Terron Kopperud and Nate Jeppsen and juniors Travis Thorpe, Zach Zanona, Zach Luttmer and Gavin Nichols.

They are joined by seniors Austin Olin and Seth Gaylord; junior Cole Mizsei; and sophomores Dawson Armstrong, Aiden Tyler, Treyson Smith and Cole Baxter.

“I think almost all of our returners have had decent experience,” Best said.

Colton Smith, Virtue, Thorpe, Zanona, Luttmer and Nichols were all starters last year.

On the pitching staff, “we return every starter from last year,” Best said.

Smith, Virtue and Zanona will start, but Best expects Tyler to compete for a starting spot on the mound. Jeppsen has improved, he said, and Kopperud is the team’s only left-handed pitcher this year.

Anderson was the only pitcher the Huskies lost last season, Best said, “so I think we’re going to be pretty deep.”

That makes the coach optimistic.

“If you can pitch, you can stay in ball games,” he said.

Colton Smith will see time at first base this year, Best said. At this point, it looks like Virtue will play third. Thorpe will play at catcher, Zanona at second and Luttmer at shortstop, while Nichols and Mizsei will play the outfield with help from Treyson Smith and Baxter.

The lineup isn’t set yet, and many of the players can move around.

At bat, “I’m hoping we can improve what we did last year,” Best said. The team will miss Holly at the top of the order, and Sweet Home will need to find players who can get on base and steal.

Offensively, the team is doing OK, but a few guys will need to step up, Best said. It’s hard to tell how well the team will do on offense, “but we have a lot of potential to put up some big numbers.”

Last year, the Huskies tied Sisters for second place in the Sky-Em League, behind champion Junction City. Sweet Home traveled to Brookings in the play-in round and lost after finishing the season ranked 14th.

It was “not where we wanted to be,” Best said. “We need to set our goals a little higher.”

The Huskies should have a shot at the league championship this year, he said, and then make their presence known in state playoffs.

Sweet Home and Sisters moved from the Sky-Em League to the Oregon West Conference this year.

“I think it’s going to be an interesting league,” Best said. A few teams will be considered down, but they’ll be better than they were last year. Those include Cascade and Stayton, both of whom lost to Sweet Home last year.

Philomath lost seniors, but the Warriors are always tough, Best said. Likewise, Sisters lost a bunch of seniors but should never be counted out.

Newport is tough, with players who can hit the ball, Best said, but the Huskies defeated the Cubs last year too.

Woodburn is usually down in a building mode, he said, but it’s coming down to the 4A level from the 5A.

Most of the programs in the Oregon West are rising, Best said.

“I think there’s teams saying, ‘You’d better watch out for Sweet Home too.”

The teams will face each other in a weekly series this year rather than a doubleheader and a single game, weeks apart.

That will benefit Sweet Home, Best said. That means each team will face each other team’s complete team, with three different pitchers over the course of the series. That means teams won’t have to face another team’s best pitcher, like Sisters’ Zach Morgan, on full rest twice in a season.

It’s good news for a team with three quality pitchers like Smith, Virtue and Zanona – and likely Tyler too, Best said.

The Huskies start out with a tough schedule. They were set to host returning Sky-Em champion Junction City Monday.

They then travel to North Marion Wednesday, March 13, a team that Best expected to be pre-ranked first in the state. Sweet Home will follow that up with a trip Friday to Banks, which was ranked in the top 10 at the end of the season.

Dan Tow and Josh Blachly return as coaching assistants.

Ryan Adams is coaching the JV with assistant Sean McNellis.

Junior varsity players are freshmen Kevin Mills, Brayden Newport, Kai Aiona, Morgan Sands, Russell Holly, Tucker Weld, Josh Wilson and Brendan Parsons; sophomores Brody Combs, Logan McCormick, Kyle Marler, Chase Lopez, Austin Marler and Kaiden Deckard; juniors Colby Seiber and Ethan Chiaffino; and Keegan Fox.