By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
Mountlake Terrace head baseball coach Andrew Watters often spends the first week of practices getting to know and evaluating the new players.
While some underclassmen have been added to the varsity roster, the 2012 Hawks look an awful lot like their predecessor.
It’s actually easier for Watters to remember the key players who graduated last year rather than trying to list the returning starters. Pitcher Kevin Sheets and catcher Keegan Volpone both graduated.
Most of the other individuals who helped Mountlake Terrace advance to the district playoffs return.
“It’s actually pretty rare to have as many guys as we have back,” said Watters, who is entering his 13th season as the Hawks’ head coach. “I’m actually really excited. I think we have a team with a lot of depth, both pitching and what we can do in the field. We have a lot guys who can play.
“We have a good senior class and we also have got some underclassmen who complement them. It’s coming together pretty well.”
The larger number of returning players, however, doesn’t mean that Watters is on autopilot. He spent the first week trying to figure out the best way to get the most out of the players.
“I don’t think I ever stop trying to get a feel where we’re at,” Watters said. “We’re trying to work on our weaknesses. It’s only been a week. Our goal is to bring it all together by the end of the year and be a true competitor in the playoffs. I think we have the talent.”
Watters is looking to senior Alex Hatch to take on the role as the team’s No. 1 pitcher. The lefthander, who also plays first base, has an above average fastball and has a lot of movement with his pitches.
“I think that if you look at his stats, you’ll find he’s just awfully tough to hit,” Watters said. “People don’t hit for a high average against him ever. If he throws strikes, he typically is going to be pretty successful.”
The senior also is filling a leadership role, which was vacated by co-captains Sheets and Volpone.
“Right now he is leading the way for our team both as a leader and as a pitcher,” Watters said. “I’m really excited for Alex. I think it’s going to be a big year for him. Everybody in the league knows about him. It’s his third varsity year. He’s matured into a good leader for our team.”
The rest of the staff is still developing. Watters has 10 pitchers to choose from and he intends to take a close look at them during the preseason games.
“Beyond Alex, we’re still feeling things out,” Watters said. “We’ve got a lot of different options.”
Senior Austin Johnson, who played outfield last year, and senior Derek Sorenson will battle it at catcher.
Watters is looking for some improvement on defense. Senior JR Gaddy played quite a bit of shortstop along with Josh Fitch. Also back are second baseman Chris Hall, third baseman Henry Haveman and Hatch at first.
“We have room to grow defensively, but we definitely have a veteran group who have been through a lot of tough games,” Watters said.
The Mountlake Terrace offense should be strong with solid hitters in Johnson, Hall, Hatch, Fitch and even sophomore returner Dominic DiMiero, who was a major contributor as the lone freshman on varsity.
“I think we’re going to be pretty balanced, one through nine,” Watters said. “The top and bottom of the lineup have some pretty good speed. It’s not necessarily in the middle. But where it counts we’re going to have some speed.
“One of the benefits of having the experience we have, is we have veteran hitters.”