Excitement is at a premium over at the Lake Washington High baseball diamond this spring.
Last year, the Kangs notched their first ever baseball state title by knocking off Lakeside, 2-0, in the 3A tournament in Pasco. Fourteen seniors graduated, including nine starters, so this year’s team has a new look, but also a fervor about what it can achieve once the KingCo season gets into full swing.
Derek Bingham, who enters his 13th year as head coach of the program, said the players are thrilled to be part of a winning program and are eager to step into roles that can guide the Kangs to more success.
“It’s a lot of new faces, but that doesn’t mean the expectations are any different. This group needs to make their own mark,” Bingham said during a break from practice on Monday.
“We always talk about the pros and cons of the program: the pros are, you’re always gonna be playing for something important,” Bingham continued, noting that the Kangs have missed the playoffs maybe twice in the last 40 years. “The cons are, sometimes you (reserve players) gotta wait a little bit longer for your opportunity than maybe you would at other schools.”
That time is now for many of the players.
At press time, the Kangs were 3-1 in nonleague games, including a 2-1 win over Mount Si at the 2017 Seattle Mariners High School Baseball Classic at Safeco Field last Saturday. Kalvin Westre and Caleb Rickels each scored runs and Daichi Tamai had one hit and one RBI.
On March 23, the Kangs knocked out 17 hits in a 13-6 victory over Newport. Joey Wishart had four hits, including a pair of doubles; Travis Lee had three hits and three RBIs; Tamai had three hits and two RBIs; and Brayden Boyes and Buchanan had two hits each.
“I think we’re shaping up better than anyone could have thought,” said senior third baseman Alex Lyon, referring to the graduating seniors. “I’m really proud of the senior class and the sophomores stepping up. I think we’re looking really good this year.”
Lyon said the Kangs will need to keep their bats alive and try to score a run an inning to provide a cushion for the pitchers, which he feels are solid along with the team’s defense.
Senior Nick Ludwig will be the team’s starting pitcher and he put in a lot of stellar innings for the team last year.
“Nick won a lot of big games for us,” Bingham said. “Every time he pitches, he’s gonna give us a really good chance to win.”
Sophomore Oliver Laufman will be the Kangs’ No. 2 hurler — he was the junior varsity’s ace last year — and junior transfer from O’Dea Buchanan will man the mound this season as well.
Other top players will be senior center fielder Rickels — he made some big plays last year and will step into an expanded role this season — senior catcher Tamai, Lyon and senior right fielder Wishart. On the sophomore front, infield starters are Torin Montgomery at first, I-Ly Hsue at second and Lee at short. Sophomore Nation Wood, who was a designated hitter at state last year, returns with a solid bat.
Tamai has been hitting strong thus far and is excited to crank the ball around some more.
“I’ve always been kind of quiet with the bat all throughout the years, but in the offseason I worked on my offense a little bit. I just noticed that not thinking at all in the batter’s box works for me, so just go out there and hit,” Tamai said, adding that he got in some live swings with friends and some former teammates and pitchers in the offseason.
Ludwig feels that team chemistry is essential with all the new faces, and the team gelled during its annual varsity trip to Vancouver. Although their games were rained out, the players toured Pacific University and attended a University of Portland game.
“A lot of guys are playing really well right now and I think that’s partly because we’re really bonding as a group and going down to Vancouver helped a lot with that,” he said. “Our lineup’s been producing up and down one through nine. Things are looking really good and I’m excited — and when May comes around, nobody ever wants to play us then.”