By JOHN McCALLUM
Cheney High School baseball coach Randy Elam has a simple formula for success.
“Our goal is to win more games than we lose,” Elam said, echoing a similar statement by former Seattle Mariners' managing great, Lou Piniella.
“I think if we do that, we make the playoffs,” Elam added.
The Blackhawks took a big step, albeit not one on their own initiative, toward improvement last year when the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, through reclassification, knocked Cheney down a notch to 2A and out of the Greater Spokane League, a tough 4A league masquerading as a competitive 3A/4A split league.
Elam and his players took bigger steps over the summer by developing a can-do, self-belief mindset in American Legion AA league play, posting a 7-13 league mark, 12-17 overall—a far cry from their last-place 1-18 GSL finish.
Elam feels believing you can win is as important as having the talent to win, and fortunately for the Hawks, they have some of the latter.
Beginning with pitching—but then again with baseball, most managers and coaches will tell you it always begins with pitching. Elam hasn't settled on a definite starting rotation yet, a process hampered somewhat by the fact that one of his potential top starters, sophomore Ricky Heuschkel, was scheduled to undergo an MRI to determine the source of back pain and may be out a while.
But the loss of Heuschkel doesn't diminish Cheney's pitching talent. There are still five other guys to chose from, all with varsity experience.
Jack Tiegen may be a frontrunner for the No. 1 spot in the rotation. Elam said the senior has been looking good, throwing strikes while consistently being around the plate with all his pitches.
Then there's junior Anthony Christianson, who got a lot of starts last year and was the model of efficiency in Cheney's 7-4, season-opening loss last weekend to Lakeside, giving up one hit and issuing no walks on 19 pitches through three innings.
Seniors Matt Wedde, T.J. Musgrave and lanky southpaw John Weisgerber also saw a lot of innings last year and over the summer, and should make significant contributions on the mound this season.
Defensively, sophomore Drew Ableman will get most of the action behind the plate, backed up by fellow sophomore Logan Hennessey. Junior Justin Walker gets the starting nod at first, backed by senior Max Shellabarger, with seniors Blaine Gibson and Riley Merrill starting at second and short, respectively. Senior Derek Ybarra takes over the hot box at third.
Wedde brings speed and quickness as the starting centerfielder, with Musgrave taking up position in right and Hennessey in left.
So far Elam likes how his defense has performed, already turning double plays, and believes it will be another strong element for the Hawks.
As will hitting eventually, and Elam believes his lineup has the ability to be solid on offense. Elam is a devotee of the “put the game in motion” style of offense, placing pressure on the defense to make plays by mixing stealing and situational hitting—read: hit-and-run—with bunting for hits as well as sacrificing. Now, the Hawks might be able to add power to the mix.
“We have some guys who can run. We have some guys who can swing the bat too,” Elam said. “We have the potential to be explosive offensively.”
Ableman and Wedde bring speed and quickness to the lead-off and No. 2 spot, respectively. Gibson provides left-handed power at No. 3, something Elam likes, while Walker supplies power at clean-up, with contact hitters Merrill and Shellabarger supplying more offensive potential at the fifth and sixth spots. Musgrave, Ybarra and Hennessey round out the order, bringing more speed to the bottom of the order.
Rounding out the squad are seniors Jaymis Marburger and Chris Ward, along with sophomore Zach Letsch.
Overall, it's a team Elam believes will be more than just competitive in its new home in the 2A Great Northern League. The Hawks have good leadership from their upper classmen, and have instilled a never-say-die attitude that may buy them key wins in important games.
Elam said this attitude was evident last Saturday against Lakeside. After falling behind 7-1 Cheney rallied, scoring runs in the bottom of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, and had two on and the tying run at the plate in their last at-bat before flying out to end the game.
For Elam, positive attitude can make all the difference when matched with talent.
“I think we have the potential to be real good,” he said.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com