Baseball: Starting five leads the way for Wolves in ‘17

Spring sports preview: Baseball

Head coach: Dave Ditlefsen (12th year)

2016 finish: 15-8 (6-6, fourth in Olympic League); West Central District co-champions, class 2A state tourney berth

Top returning players: James Grubb (sr.), Austin Hilliard (sr.), James Thayer (sr.), Justin Porter (sr.), Jonathan Serrano (sr.), Gavin Velarde (jr.), Ian Miller (jr.), Johnnie Young (so.)

Newcomers: Devin Beck (sr.), Ryan Clark (jr.), Andrew Juntilla (sr.), Joseph Oliver (so.), Kyler Rollness (so.), Jared Thomas (sr.), Silas Thomas (fr.), Elandon Washburn (jr.), Rudy Whitehead (sr.), Cole Williams (jr.)

Key competition: North Kitsap, Port Angeles, Olympic

Bats? Check. Gloves? Check. Arms? Check, and then some.

Sequim head coach Dave Ditlefsen enters his 12th season with a squad that sees most major components from last season’s West Central District co-champions back on the diamond.

“We’re coming in with very high expectations,” he said. “We return a very veteran group.”

And while the Sequim coach said he sees a fairly balanced team, it’s the pitching staff that looks to be the strength of this spring’s Wolves team.

Seniors James Grubb, Austin Hilliard and James Thayer are joined by juniors Gavin Velarde and Ian Miller in a five-deep rotation that looks to keep Sequim close deep into ballgames, as they did with last season’s state 2A tourney-qualifying team.

Velarde led the team with a 0.35 earned-run-average and .145 opponent batting average. Grubb had a 2.08 ERA with a team-high 54 strikeouts, holding batters to a .181 average. Thayer was second on the team in innings thrown while posting a 1.38 ERA and striking out 21 batters, and Hilliard was second on the team with 27 strikeouts in 24-and-a-third innings.

“Strength is going to be our pitching: every pitcher who threw in the playoffs last year is back,” Ditlefsen said.

For on-the-field leadership, Ditlefsen looks to four-year varsity player James Grubb, a southpaw who earned all-Olympic League second-team status in 2016.

“He is a natural leader,” Ditlefsen said of Grubb. “He’s become kind of the spokesman for the team.”

Also back are all-league second team players Velarde (shortstop, when he’s not pitching) and senior Justin Porter. Velarde led the team with a .402 batting average, a .484 on-base percentage and 22 steals in 25 attempts in 2016. Porter was second on the team in hitting (.333) and slugged a .450 average with 10 steals in 10 tries.

The Wolves did lose significant players to graduation — Evan Hurn, Nigel Christian, Ian Dennis, Daniel Harker and Logan Hankison — but Ditlefsen likes his chances with a squad that boasts plenty of experience: the varsity lineup includes nine seniors, five juniors and just one sophomore (Johnnie Young, who saw varsity time in 2016).

“Most (of these players) have been part of the playoff experience in the past two years,” Ditlefsen said.

Last spring Sequim earned its third postseason berth in as many seasons, finishing fourth behind league champ North Kitsap, Port Angeles and Olympic. But the Wolves made the most of their district berth, knocking off White River Sammamish and River Ridge before rain washed out the West Central District title game.

At state, Sequim was in a scoreless tie with Ellensburg into the seventh inning before miscues led to a 3-0 loss.

Ditlefsen said that while Sequim has the pitching staff to make another playoff run, the Olympic League has plenty of good arms to go around.

“Scoring runs is never easy in our league,” he said. “We have our work cut out for us, for sure.”

Wolves fans will see a familiar face on the bench with the junior varsity squad: Former SHS baseball standout Preston McFarlen leads Sequim’s JV squad, with dad Bill McFarlen his assistant.

“Even through his high school years you could tell he was very mature,” Ditlefsen said of his former player, a 2011 Sequim High graduate. “I could see he might have a future in coaching.”

Sequim opened the season March 11 with a jamboree and was scheduled to play at Mount Tahoma on March 14.

The Wolves are at Olympic on March 15, at Coupeville on March 17 and at Klahowya on March 20 before hosting the North Mason Bulldogs on March 22.

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