The Wildcats have one of the biggest challenges a team in any sport can face – defending a championship.
Stan Taloff's Archbishop Murphy team got hot at the right time a season ago and it culminated with a 7-6 extra inning victory over Lynden in the 2A state championship game last May. It was the first state championship of Taloff's illustrious career.
This season he is back for a chance to do it again.
If the Wildcats are going to repeat they are going to have to do it without two of their most talented players from a season ago. Levi MaVorhis was one of the best pitchers, going 11-0 on the mound. In the playoffs, MaVorhis earned a victory in the state semifinal and knocked in five runs in the state championship game. All-state third baseman Eric Lawson also graduated after last season. Lawson delivered the walk off two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning that won the state championship.
Taloff called MaVorhis and Lawson "tough to replace."
The Wildcats return seven players this season and are the favorite to win the Cascade Conference once again.
Pitchers Derrick Mahlum and Zander Clouse return and should carry a lot of the load for the Wildcats' pitching staff.
Offensively, All-State shortstop Trever Morrison returns and should lead the way at the plate for the Wildcats. Morrison has committed to play baseball at Oregon State University after graduation.
"He's just an outstanding hitter," Taloff said. "He's got great speed and great hands on defense."
There is no question that the Wildcats have plenty of returning talent, but can they repeat? "We surely will have the talent to make a run at that," Taloff said. "Sometimes it's just one bad day or one good pitcher that comes up against you and because we don't play a series like they do in other levels beyond us, one game can determine whether you move on or if you are done for the year. It's a very difficult thing to do, but of course starting the year that's our goal."
Will Lake Stevens be able to reload?
Lake Stevens had one of the most talented local teams in recent memory a season ago. They came up short of a state title, losing 10-6 to Puyallup in the 4A state quarterfinals, but there was no question the Vikings were one of the best teams out there.
Lake Stevens had 13 seniors last season and 10 of them went on to play college baseball, meaning this year's team has a lot of big names to replace. Just to name a few, Anthony Blackie, Jake Nelson, Dylan LaVelle, Christian Gasca, Christian Shouman and Alex Koeplin have all moved on to college.
The roster looks much different this season, but head coach Rodger Anderson thinks the team can be very good once again, thanks a very talented group of juniors.
Right-handed pitchers Brandon Kelliher and Taylor Shea as well as left-hander Corey Bullens should keep the Vikings competitive in most games.
Anderson said those three players should be leaders for the Vikings, but added there are several others that he expects to contribute.
"There are quite a few others," Anderson said. "It's kind of like last year's senior group. I think we will have a different standout every game if things work the way I think they will."
One of the biggest concerns for the Vikings might be lack of experience at the varsity level, but if grow throughout the season the way Anderson hopes, the Vikings might once again be at the top of the league.
"I think we should be able to compete for a Wesco championship," Anderson said. "I think we have a chance to possibly make a state berth. There are some strong teams in the South this year, but we can hopefully compete for a state playoff spot."
Will injuries derail a North favorite?
The Panthers might be the favorite in the Wesco 4A North, but are already struggling before they have even played a game.
Injuries have already taken their toll on the team in a way head coach Kim Hammons has never seen before. Three of his pitchers are out with injuries to their throwing arms and Hammons isn't sure if any of them will be able to pitch this season.
"I'm not a doctor, but I think I am sometimes," Hammons said. "Based on what I see I just don't see them coming back. It would take a stroke of luck. I just don't see it happening."
Garrett Stich broke his arm during wrestling season, Josh Baird broke a bone in his elbow during a bullpen session at a camp at Washington State University and Brad Morgan is out with a tear in his ulnar nerve.
Another pitcher, Casey Flitch is currently out with a shoulder injury.
"As far as being the favorite, we have lost three of the five pitchers that we have that were coming back with varsity experience," Hammons said. "So we are in the experimental stage of giving kids opportunities in scrimmages to try to find who can pitch at the varsity level."
According to Hammons, Stich may soon get a release from his doctor, but he is still a long way away from pitching. He hasn't thrown for several months and would need time to rehabilitate his arm before ever playing in a game.
The Panthers have good position players that should allow them to be competitive, but the pitching situation will remain a mystery for now – as is how competitive the Panthers can be without them.
"It's still a question," Hammons said. "I don't have any answers for you, I wish that I did.
"I've been doing this a long time. I've never, ever had three varsity pitchers go down. I've never had one guy go down with a broken arm, let alone two. So I'm just trying everybody. I might try the manager next week."
Todd's return to diamond delayed
It's going to take a little bit longer than originally planned, but Jason Todd will soon be returning to the diamond.
The Jackson basketball star, who did not play on the baseball team last season, has decided to come back for his junior season. His return has been delayed, however, due to an ankle injury he suffered while playing in the basketball team's 4A state championship game.
An X-ray of Todd's ankle on Friday revealed no broken bones but torn ligaments, leaving Todd in a walking boot and an estimated six weeks until he can return to action. But he says that won't keep him from making his much-anticipated return to the Jackson baseball team.
"I'm going to play whenever this ankle is ready," Todd said with no hesitation.
Last Monday, the first school day after the state championship, Todd was out on the field with his teammates. While he couldn't practice, he still wanted to show his support for his team.
And his school.
"Our support system from our faculty, teachers, students is unbelievable," Todd said. "I love being a Timberwolf. I bleed and die black and green."
Todd is eager to return to the baseball team once his injured ankle is no longer those two colors.
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