Huskies expect to be in Val-Co baseball race

The Sweet Home baseball team is starting this season with one ingredient it lacked last year: experience.

The Huskies return a pair of seniors and five juniors to the baseball field this year.

Senior Brad Valloni returns for a third year, and senior Leif Erickson returns for his second. They are joined by juniors T.J. Sipe, Brock Cota, Levi Marchbanks, Tyler Holly, Steven Bidwell and J.P. Williams.

New players are senior Tyler White, juniors Jamie Steinbacher and Andrew Winslow and sophomore Gavin Kauffman.

“Last year, we started five sophomores and a couple of juniors,” Coach Dan Tow said. “We didn’t have many seniors last year.”

So Tow is optimistic, he said.

“Having a year of varsity experience is very, very valuable. They know what to expect, and they know how competitive the league is.”

The Val-Co league includes Newport, last year’s state champion.

The experienced players will round out their ranks from a pool of good younger players, a freshman team that has done well for the past two years and a junior varsity team that dominated last season.

“I’ve been really impressed with Andrew Winslow,” Tow said. “Jamie (Steinbacher) has been a hard worker.

“All the kids have just worked really hard, and there’s a lot of strong kids behind them, a lot of junior varsity players that could play varsity. I think we should be really competitive.”

But the Huskies are in a competitive league, he said. Last year, the Sweet Home finished at the bottom of the league with Taft, each with two league wins; yet the Huskies went 6-1 in non-league games.

This year, Tow said, he expects it to be more even, though Newport still will be a problem.

“They’re going to be the favorite till somebody can beat them,” he said, noting that the Cubs have a couple of top players returning.

Philomath lost a lot of seniors, he said, but the Warriors’ junior varsity was tough like Sweet Home’s. The Warriors also return one of the best pitchers in the league, Dan Haynes.

“Everybody except for us and Taft lost a number of good players, but everybody returns some key guys also,” Tow said. “There’s going to be a lot of competition. Hopefully, we’ll be right in the mix. You’re going to have to go out and play good baseball to have a chance to win.”

The Huskies are aiming at state playoffs, Tow said. “It’ll be a battle, but we’re certainly capable of beating these teams.”

The pitching staff will include veterans Williams, Sipe, Marchbanks and Kauffman.

Sipe, Williams, Holly, Kauffman and White will man the middle infield positions, while Valloni and Steinbacher will take third. Cota is the team’s first baseman right now.

Marchbanks and Erickson will work at home plate, and Winslow, Bidwell and Erickson will man the outfield.

“We’ve got a lot of kids that can hit the ball,” Tow said. “I think that should be a strength for us. I think we have to score runs, and we’ve got a lot of guys that can hit the ball. We’re going to play really good defense and score runs.”

But the Huskies won’t be throwing 15-strikeout games, which means they will need to score, he said. “We don’t have one of those superstar players. We have a lot of solid players.”

Ron Danielson moves from the freshman team to assist Tow at varsity level this year with newcomer Kyle Diedzik, who brings high school and college baseball experience.

Josh Marvin will coach the junior varsity after assisting last year. He is assisted by Brent Smith in his first year coaching.

Pat Davis, who has coached a number of sports at the junior and high school levels, will coach the freshmen.

The junior varsity roster includes Brandon Basham, Kyle Hummer, Isaiah Blake, Tyler Mengore, David Deggelman, Cody Daniels, Blake Martin, Chris White, Bryce Seiber, Jason Whitlow, Keenan Martin, Grason Reynolds and Chris Lovik.

Zach Miller remained unassigned as of Monday.

The freshmen include Hunter Bidwell, Scottie Stockman Jr., Jeremy White, Bryce Vandenberg, Ty Collins, Tyler Paulino, Cory Hanks, Taylor Conn, Brandon Gregory, Tyler Morehead, Kyle Winslow, Kyle McCollum, Jason McKendrie and Mack Dyke.