Medical Lake's defending baseball champs like their role
Medical Lake will approach the 2014 Northeast A League baseball season from a new vantage point.
As the defending league champs.
"That's a nice feeling to begin the season with that crown, but as I told the boys from day one it comes with a target," head coach Kerry Kelly said. "
The Cardinals logged a 20-4 record last year, reaching the quarterfinals of the state playoffs before falling to Cascade of Leavenworth 17-7. That turnaround came after going 1-18 in 2012.
Medical Lake opens the 2014 season Thursday, March 20 versus Davenport in a nonleague game at 5 p.m. and a Saturday, 11 a.m. doubleheader to open the NEA season at home against Newport.
Even after losing two premiere performers in all-league selections, pitcher Adam Paulson and Kasey Kelly at catcher, ML coach Kelly does not see much of a fall. "We're a young team but we have valuable experience," he said.
"We're excited but we know we're going to see everybody's best," Kelly said of the 2104 NEA season. "I told them that should be a compliment."
Kelly is trying to instill a mental edge with his team. "We've been on the opposite side of that and we've also had that talk where we've come from and how hard we had to work to get to that point," he said. "I don't think we're quite ready to release that."
Kelly sees his squad as one of those teams who can beat anyone on any given day. "But we can also drop one we that we probably shouldn't," he said.
"Even though we have a young group of kids, they know what it takes," Kelly said. "They know what's expected of them, they don't get a free ride."
Despite the loss of those leaders on the field and in the dugout, "I see the potential, I see already that they're way ahead of where they were last year," Kelly said.
Returning personnel include senior Roman Kissack, who along with sophomore Cory Wagner, will get the bulk of the pitching starts. "Both did a great job (for us)," last year, Kelly said. Kissack has stepped up into the leadership role, formerly owned by Paulson and Kelly.
"Cory Wagner, what an athlete, first of all, he's matured and is a tiny bit bigger," Kelly said. "You can't judge a book by the cover on this kid. "
His arm, Kelly describes as "lightening" and is very live. Wagner's ability to play in the outfield, particularly in center where he gunned down a runner at the plate on a laser throw last spring as just a freshman, excites his coach.
Aaron Sunde, a sophomore, gives Kelly a luxury he's not previously had as Medical Lake's coach, that of a left-handed pitcher. "He's such a pure baseball player, I think he's ready to step up." He gives the Cardinals a different look, Kelly explained.
Dylan Rushfeldt, a junior and three-year starter, will play primarily shortstop but will see duty around the infield and on the mound.
Hudson Petek, a junior, will catch and literally has very big shoes to fill, Kelly said, replacing his son Kasey at catcher. "He worked with Kasey quite a bit and is just eager to learn," Kelly said. Petek, or "Rudy" as he's refereed to, "Is not very big in stature but he's tough as nails."
Newcomers are battling for the second base slot. Jordan Calero played there in 2013 but moved and "Is a big loss," Kelly said. Jaelen Musser and Tyler Munden, both sophomores, will vie for the start. "Both have potential, but both have work to do."
In the outfield is Connor Cranston, a senior and three-year starter and set for left field. "He's a team leader and a good kid on the bench," Kelly said.
Sophomore Brayden Hale played in a variety of spots last year but over the American Legion season he emerged as a pitcher, catcher and infielder. "He's going to be another kid who can eat up some innings," when he's on the mound, Kelly added.
First baseman Jacob Steinmetz is a junior and someone Kelly calls, "A character guy," for the Cardinals.
New to the program is Liberty's Cole Soliday, a sophomore who also played Legion ball in ML last summer.
"He's an excellent defender," but is also one of the best bunters around, Kelly said.
Joe Sica, a junior, dusted off the mitt and cleats for the first time since junior high, Kelly said. "He's a big strong kid who can play third base." Sica is a natural athlete, his coach said.
Along with some all around talent, there's something else Kelly sees and likes about his team.
"The attitude on this team and the character on this team is, top to bottom, probably the best I've had," Kelly said. "We'll see how they handle adversity and how that handle success."
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.