Lynnwood’s Jace Hampson delivers a pitch during a game against Lake Stevens on March 17 at Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lynnwood’s Jace Hampson delivers a pitch during a game against Lake Stevens on March 17 at Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Prep baseball preview: 5 things to watch this season

A look at the top local storylines to keep an eye on this high school baseball season.

The high school baseball season is in full swing with many local teams getting their first taste of league play this week.

Here’s a look at five things to watch throughout the spring:

Can new-look Jackson continue to be the class of Wesco 4A?

The Timberwolves experienced some significant departures during the offseason after cruising to the Wesco 4A championship last spring. Longtime coach Kirk Nicholson retired and the program graduated slugging shortstop Dominic Hellman, a two-time Herald All-Area Player of the Year, and all three of its top pitchers in terms of innings pitched, including two-way standout Carson Burns. First-year head coach Ryan Otto, a former Jackson assistant and Mariner head coach, has some firepower coming back on offense with seniors Micah Coleman, Ryan Nakajima and Evan Mothersbaugh all returning after hitting over .300 last season. The Timberwolves should likely receive more of a challenge this season after finishing four games in front of their nearest league competitor last year. Lake Stevens figures to be the top challenger with a conference-high four returning all-leaguers. The Vikings are led by senior infielder/pitcher Cole Becker, who slashed .411/.500/.464 with 15 stolen bases last season, and senior outfielder Collin Beazizo, who slashed .340/.432/.556 with 12 stolen bases as a junior. Lake Stevens (4-0) was one of just two Snohomish County teams without a loss entering Wednesday.

Jackson’s Ryan Nakajima takes a swing at a pitch against Bothell on May 13, 2022, at Funko Field in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Jackson’s Ryan Nakajima takes a swing at a pitch against Bothell on May 13, 2022, at Funko Field in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Is there a change of guard in Wesco 3A/2A North?

For many years the conversation in Wesco 3A/3A North baseball started with Arlington. The Eagles won three consecutive league titles from 2017-19, including two straight unbeaten seasons in league play in 2018 and 2019, and piled up an impressive 49-game regular-season win streak that spanned from March 20, 2018 to May 5, 2021. But the gap between Arlington and the rest of the league has closed. Stanwood edged the three-time defending champs, Snohomish and Monroe by one game for the league crown last season. The Spartans, whose league championship was its first since 1998, appear to be primed for another run at a title with a strong starting pitching staff leading the way. Senior Mason Goodson, junior Aidan O’Neil and senior Matthew Brennan combined for 1.74 earned-run average in just over 118 innings pitched last season. Expect fellow title hopefuls Snohomish, Monroe and Arlington to make this a down-to-the-wire race once again.

Stanwood’s Mason Goodson delivers a pitch against Archbishop Murphy on April 28, 2022, at Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Stanwood’s Mason Goodson delivers a pitch against Archbishop Murphy on April 28, 2022, at Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Will Edmonds School District reign supreme again in Wesco 3A/2A South?

Edmonds School District baseball squads flexed their muscles last season in an impressive collective showing by the district’s four high schools. Lynnwood, Meadowdale, Edmonds-Woodway and Mountlake Terrace delivered a one-two-three-four finish in the eight-team league last season. All four teams advanced to the Class 3A District 1 tournament semifinals, with three (Lynnwood, Edmonds-Woodway, Mountlake Terrace) qualifying for the 3A state tournament. And the league title was decided by a two-game series between Lynnwood and Meadowdale that closed the regular season, ending in a shared championship after the teams traded shutout wins. All four return enough talent to set up what could be another strong spring from the district’s squads. Defending district champion Lynnwood features on of the state’s top junior recruits in shortstop/pitcher Jace Hampson, who slashed .426/.557/.532 with 15 stolen bases as a sophomore. Always-tough Edmonds-Woodway has some massive shoes to fill after graduating the standout pitching duo of Jacob Gabler and Gibby Marshall-Inman, but the Warriors always seem to be in the mix and have one of the area’s top returning left-handed power bats in senior first baseman/outfielder Jens Simonsen, who slugged .560 with 12 extra-base hits last season. Meadowdale returns senior ace Broderick Bluhm, a two-way threat, and senior outfielder John O’Connell. Both posted on-base percentages of over .430 last season. Mountlake Terrace erupted for 51 runs while allowing only one over its first two games of this spring. The Hawks are another team replacing its top two starters, but the squad returns just about everybody else from last season, including senior center fielder Rominic Quiban, who slugged .575 with 11 extra-base hits and 11 stolen bases last spring.

Lynnwood’s Jace Hampson delivers a pitch during a game against Lake Stevens on March 17 at Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lynnwood’s Jace Hampson delivers a pitch during a game against Lake Stevens on March 17 at Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Can anybody match Kale Hammer’s pitching dominance from a season ago?

Snohomish left-hander Kale Hammer was nearly untouchable during a sensational junior season. The Gonzaga signee posted a dazzling 0.23 earned-run average over 50.1 innings pitched and fanned nearly two batters per inning while piling up a single-season school record 94 strikeouts. Hammer is back for his senior season, and the 6-foot-3 lefty is the early leader in the clubhouse for the area’s top ace. But he’ll have other talented arms challenging him for that moniker, including a trio of seniors who posted sub-2.00 ERAs in over 40 innings of work last season. The aforementioned Goodson, a hard-throwing right-hander and Oregon commit, tossed a no-hitter in the district tournament last spring and posted a 1.95 ERA with 83 strikeouts over 53.2 innings. Meadowdale lefty Bluhm held batters to a .181 average while compiling a 1.80 ERA over 44 innings. Arlington righty Cooper McBride posted a 1.69 ERA over 41.1 innings with 47 strikeouts.

Kale Hammer walks back to the dugout after pitching against Marysville Getchell on April 7, 2022, at Snohomish High School in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Kale Hammer walks back to the dugout after pitching against Marysville Getchell on April 7, 2022, at Snohomish High School in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Will a Snohomish County squad make a run to final four at Funko Field?

If a 3A or 4A team from Snohomish County can make it to the season’s final week, they’ll get the luxury of a short trip to compete in their respective classification’s final four. It could even mean playing for a state championship at home for some. The 3A and 4A state semifinals and championship games are being held at Funko Field in Everett on May 26-27. The area will have to overcome some recent struggles in the postseason to get there. Local 3A and 4A teams are a combined 2-8 at the past two state tournaments, and no 4A team qualified for state last season. The last Snohomish County team to reach the state semifinals in 3A or 4A was Edmonds-Woodway, which did so in 3A in back-to-back seasons from 2017-18.

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