WALLA WALLA, Wash. – For the Whitman College baseball team, 2006 brings another season of hope in the face of a daunting schedule that debuts with two nationally-ranked teams in the first few weeks.
The Missionaries and fourth-year head coach Casey Powell open the season at the D-III Arizona Desert Classic on Thursday, Feb. 16 against Wayland Baptist University. The very next day Whitman will test its might against the University of La Verne, which is ranked No. 10 nationally in Collegiate Baseball’s NCAA Div. III preseason poll.
“This is the hardest schedule we've had since I’ve been here,” Powell says. “Wayland Baptist is a competitive NAIA school, and all indications point to a real tough game against La Verne.”
Whitman also locks horns with California State-East Bay (formerly Cal State-Hayward) and Louisiana College at its season-opening tournament.
The Missionary hopes this spring rest in part on the broad shoulders of senior co-captain J.D. Fischer (Boise, Idaho / Capitol HS). A year ago, Fischer led Whitman in multiple offensive categories, including home runs, doubles, RBI and total bases. Powell counts on Fischer, who plays first base, to put some wallop in the heart of the Whitman batting order.
“J.D. is the absolute catalyst for this team,” Powell says. “He pushes himself, and he pushes the rest of the team. Fischer has made the biggest improvement of any player from his freshman year to his senior year. He’s our biggest threat.”
One of three seniors on the squad, Fischer is joined by Drew Pearsall (Phoenix Ariz. / Brophy College Prep) and Adam Maldonado (San Francisco, calif / Lick-Wilmerding HS) as the elder statesmen.
Pearsall, also a captain, is likely to see much of his playing time in the outfield this season. He hopes to regain the form that landed him on the all-Northwest Conference (NWC) team as a freshman. That year, Pearsall batted a robust .311, before a creaky back and other injuries hobbled him for pieces of each of the last two years. “Drew gets a lot of respect,” Powell says. “He works hard, and he’s a fierce competitor. He’s a good leader on this team, and we hope to keep him healthy this year.”
A southpaw who pitched in 10 games as a junior, Maldonado is Powell's definition of a crafty left-hander. “Adam mixes speeds real well, and he has a great work ethic. He’ll likely be a starter for us to begin the season. He gets the younger pitchers to work hard in practice.”
Dueling alongside Maldonado for a top spot on the mound will be fellow lefty Pat Johnston (Olympia, Wash. / Capital HS). The rubber-armed junior started 10 games a year ago and led the team in innings pitched. “Pat’s our most durable pitcher,” Powell says. “He understands the game and keeps hitters off-balance. He could be used a lot this season, and if his mechanics are there – he could really have a breakout year.”
After Johnston, the Missionaries get young in a hurry. The team features 17 underclassmen, including 10 newcomers. “In terms of youth, we have our work cut out for us,” Powell says. “This is a team that is going to see some growing pains early on, while we learn how to adjust to college baseball, and the speed of the game at this level.”
Sophomore second baseman Kramer Phillips (Woodinville, Wash. / Woodinville HS) is the brightest returning youngster. Phillips was second on the team in hitting as a freshman with a .330 batting average, and he had nine extra base hits, including a pair of triples. “Kramer has good bat speed,” Powell says. “He goes the other way well, and he plays a pretty solid infield.”
Adam Knappe (Bainbridge Island, Wash. / Bainbridge HS) will likely see the majority of time at shortstop in his own sophomore campaign. Knappe played in 12 games a year ago and has shown signs of catching on to the college game. “He made good improvements last year,” Powell says.
Filling out the infield at times will be a handful of first- and second-year glovemen. Sophomore Chad Frisk (Seattle, Wash. / Shorecrest HS) and freshmen Matt Morris-Rosenfeld (Seattle, Wash. / Nathan Hale HS) and Mike Minckler (Seattle, Wash. / West Seattle HS) should all find their way into the mix this season.
Frisk played in 18 games a year ago and brings the most experience of the three. “Chad has improved a ton,” Powell says. “He’s a lot stronger, a lot faster. He makes contact at the plate and has good baseball instincts. He’ll be a good team player this season.”
Morris-Rosenfeld will likely split most of his time between designated hitter and first base. “Matt has been a real nice surprise with the bat. He wants to learn and improve, and he can help right away with his hitting.”
“Minckler is a great defensive catcher” Powell adds. “He has the best arm behind the dish and will see a lot of innings as our backstop, but he might also play some third base.”
Sophomore receiver Mike Rathwell (Phoenix, Ariz. / Brophy College Prep) will also see his share of repetitions behind the plate. Rathwell started 13 games a year ago, when he split time at catcher with a graduating senior. “Mike is very smart,” Powell says. “He can call his own game and he knows the mechanics of catching. He’s getting stronger, and he works hard.”
Rathwell and Minckler will be joined at catcher by freshman Derek Clovis (Seattle, Wash. / Ballard HS).
Alongside Pearsall in the outfield are sophomore Luke Marshall (Bellevue, Wash. / Newport HS) and a slew of freshmen, led by Dan White (Eugene, Ore. / South Eugene HS). "Marshall has a doubles-frame, and White has a good swing on a good body. He could be a gap-to-gap hitter with a lot of potential.”
Other freshmen who could see time in the outfield include John Nelson (North Pole, Alaska / North Pole HS), Calvin Davis (Portland, Ore. / Sunset HS), and Nick Christman (Ione, Ore. / Ione School).
“Nelson is probably the fastest person on this team," Powell says. "He’s a lefty bat, and if he can get on base, he’ll be fun to watch. Davis is a multi-sport athlete who is pretty athletic and has decent mechanics. Christman and Davis will both be pitchers, primarily.”
Hurlers Keali’i Forsberg (Honolulu, Haw. / King Kekaulike HS) and Sam Thompson (Phoenix, Ariz. / Phoenix Country Day School) return for their sophomore campaigns. They combined to pitch in 18 games a year ago. “Sam could be our lone right-handed starter this year,” Powell says. “He’s worked on understanding how to pitch a lot since last year. We’re trying to increase his durability so he can start. And Keali’i is a southpaw. We still need to tweek his mechanics a bit, but he’s doing good, overall.”
The pitching staff will also be bolstered by a few fresh faces, including freshmen Pete Stadmeyer (Silverton, Ore. / Silverton HS), Trygve Madsen (Grand Junction, Colo. / Grand Junction HS), and Ranger Sciacca (Bainbridge Island, Wash. / Bainbridge HS). Of the three, Stadmeyer poses the most promise. “He had some arm problems in the fall,” Powell says. “But he’s another lefty loaded with potential. He knows how to pitch, and he’s going to have to be a gorilla for us."
“Ranger understands how to pitch right now,” Powell says. “He has a long frame and can throw from three different arm slots, and he mixes his pitches well. He might be our closer. Trygve is still learning how to pitch but the potential is there. He has a nice frame and could get a lot stronger.”
After the opening tournament in Arizona, the Missionaries travel to Powell’s old playing-day haunts at Linfield College, which is hosting the Jugs Baseball Spring Classic Feb. 24-26 in the McMinnville and Newberg, Ore., areas.
In that tournament, one of Whitman’s three opponents is the University of British Columbia, which is No. 23 in the NAIA national poll, according to Collegiate Baseball.
Whitman opens Northwest Conference play at Pacific Lutheran University during the first weekend in March. The Missionaries host their first home game of the season on Wednesday, March 8, against nonconference rival Central Washington. Whitman plays its first NWC home games on Saturday and Sunday, March 11-12, against Pacific University.
Dave Holden, Whitman Sports Information
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