Young Falcon squad wants to improve on last year's mark | SPRING SPORTS PREVIEW

Falcon head baseball coach Dave Guetlin motivates his team during practice. Guetlin said a lot of effort and dedication is required to make the district playoffs this season. His team has only four seniors, one of whom said he feels responsible for preparing his younger teammates to succeed.   - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcon head baseball coach Dave Guetlin motivates his team during practice. Guetlin said a lot of effort and dedication is required to make the district playoffs this season. His team has only four seniors, one of whom said he feels responsible for preparing his younger teammates to succeed.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Four wins in 17 games is a forgettable record.

It would be easy to say, “Forget last year” and move on. The South Whidbey Falcon baseball team is choosing to remember it, though, as a reminder to turn this season around through practice and dedication.

Last season, the Falcons were 4-13 in conference and overall. That equals a .235 winning percentage. To put that statistic into context, the Seattle Mariners – who had a dismal season with 101 losses – had a .377 winning percentage. Of the six 2A teams in the Cascade Conference, South Whidbey placed fifth.

The task to improve the team’s record is more challenging with a young team. Still, Falcon head coach Dave Guetlin set the standard high to make the district playoffs by finishing as a top-three team.

It may be a tough target to hit.

“We are extremely young,” Guetlin said.

There are four seniors on varsity: Austin Bennett, Ben Jacobson-Ross, Zeke Spalding and Riley Newman (who returned from a two-year absence).

“It’s my first love as a sporting event,” Newman said. “And I just wanted to get back in it because it’s so much fun.”

Guetlin lost three seniors to “various and sundry reasons,” including switching sports and moving out of the school district.

Guetlin named three underclassmen as players to watch: sophomore pitcher Jack Lewis, sophomore catcher Aaron Curfman and freshman Jake Slaadkey. The junior varsity team is comprised entirely of freshmen.

The rain limited Guetlin’s practice plan to mostly indoor workouts. He said the folder that contains the team’s indoor practice plans is twice as thick as the outdoor field plans. When it’s not raining, Guetlin said the field still requires at least an hour of preparation, which leads to practice being reduced by half and he then opts for live scrimmage rather than drills.

“You’ve got to play with the hand you’re dealt,” he said.

Bennett, a first-team all-conference outfielder, is a silver lining in the midst of a transition season. The four-year varsity senior left fielder said the team’s fielding and defense are its best asset. Newman agreed with his teammate.

“I think our defense is pretty solid in the outfield,” Newman said. “Our outfield is really, really fast.”

Recall Bennett as running back, wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner and safety on the football team. Remove the pads, and it’s not much of a leap to believe Newman’s statement about the speed of the Falcons’ outfield. Bennett also credited his batting for his all-conference nomination, and agreed with Guetlin’s assessment that the Falcons don’t have a handful of long-ball hitters, and will likely focus on hit-and-run plays.

“My role is to just put the ball in play and get the younger guys excited to hit,” Bennett said.

Spalding and Newman will command the middle infield at second and shortstop, respectively. Newman is also the second pitcher in the rotation.

“It’s been rough,” Newman admitted. “Just a couple days ago I started hitting again since freshman year. I started to hit the ball into the outfield and really put some wood on it.”

Offense remained an uncertainty for Guetlin and the Falcons after their first game against Friday Harbor on March 12. South Whidbey lost 10-4, but played shorthanded. Newman said he was unable to play, and Bennett explained the game as an opportunity to let the younger, inexperienced players have playing time in a game, rather than a scrimmage or practice.

Guetlin had not announced captains as of Monday. That hasn’t deterred Bennett and Newman from assuming leadership roles. Both said they help their younger teammates with advice and encouragement.

“The coaches want me to step up and be a leader of the baseball team, and I’ve accepted the challenge,” Newman said. “I’m already trying to encourage the freshmen and the sophomores to try their best and give it their all.”

At least part of the reason the Falcon boys of summer struggled was the conference’s strength.

“I don’t know if there’s a better 2A league in the state,” the coach said.

Cascade Conference teams are staples of the championship rounds at the state tournament. The conference was in the tournament championship or third/fourth-place games every year since 2004.

Perennial favorite Archbishop Murphy won third place in the 2A state tournament last season. In the 2009 season, Cedarcrest won the state tournament and Archbishop Murphy was eliminated in the first round.

The year before that, Cedarcrest claimed third place and Archbishop Murphy lost in the quarterfinal round.  In 2006, Granite Falls won the state tournament. These three teams, plus Lakewood, are contending for the top spots, Guetlin said.

Guetlin, in his 10th year coaching and teaching at South Whidbey, put the team’s realistic winning percentage at .500. Based on the 2010 season, a .500 record would put South Whidbey in third or fourth place (which qualifies for a District 1 crossover play-in game).

It's a goal that the entire roster wants to reach.

“I want our team to grow and get better,” Bennett said.

South Whidbey begins a three-game home stretch against Cedarcrest at 4 p.m. Friday, March 18.

Falcons baseball schedule

Wednesday, March 16, Cedarcrest

Friday, March 18, Cedarcrest*

Saturday, March 19, Bellingham* (noon)

Monday, March 21, Lakewood*

Wednesday, March 23, Lakewood

Friday, March 25, Lakewood*

Monday, March 28, Archbishop Murphy

Wednesday, March 30, Archbishop Murphy*

Friday, April 1, Archbishop Murphy

Monday, April 4, Granite Falls*

Wednesday, April 6, Granite Falls

Friday, April 8, Granite Falls*

Monday, April 11, Sultan

Wednesday, April 13, Sultan*

Friday, April 15, Sultan

Monday, April 18, Klahowya

Monday, April 25, Coupeville*

Wednesday, April 27, Coupeville

Monday, May 2, Cedarcrest

* Home game. Games at 4 p.m. unless noted.

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