By Oliver Lazenby
Last year, Blaine’s varsity baseball team made it deep into the playoffs and earned a 15–10 record. That success apparently created a lot of interest in Blaine’s baseball program, because 38 kids tried out this year – that’s up from 25 last year.
“You can feel how excited the kids are,” said head coach Sean Linville. “We have a lot of guys back from that team and I think they’re excited to try to do that again. You can definitely feel a confidence level with the kids that we haven’t felt before.”
The Borderites’ chances of making it back to the playoff’s look good. They have three returning seniors – including Anthony Ball and Jalen Kortlever, who have played on varsity since their freshman year – as well as a senior who transferred and a senior who played junior varsity last year. Juniors and sophomores, most of whom played varsity last year, round out the team.
Linville is back as head coach after taking a two-year hiatus to spend more time watching his daughter’s baseball games. Larry Hoffman, head coach for the past two years, is still with the team as assistant coach. The duo has coached together for 13 years, starting in Ferndale and coming to Blaine five years ago.
The team has some important holes to fill, including one left by Jon Starcer who graduated last year after three years as a starting pitcher. He was vital to the Borderites’ playoff success last year, pitching several complete and nearly perfect games.
“We have a lot of pitchers, we just don’t have the proven guy like he was,” Linville said. “That will definitely be the initial question mark.”
Jon Gunderson will likely pitch a lot. Gunderson had a solid performance last year as a sophomore and earned a couple of wins in the playoffs. Brandon Watts, a transfer from Wisconsin who Linville said looks impressive so far, will also likely get a lot of time on the mound.
Another question is how well Kai Nagle will take to playing catcher. Nagle is learning the position to replace Brendan Riddle, who graduated last year.
“He’s probably the hardest-working guy we have,” Linville said. “He’s taken on the challenge of learning a new position and I think he’s ready to go.”
Last year, the Borderites often struggled to get on base. This year, the team has competent hitters throughout the lineup, Linville said.
“Oftentimes in high school baseball you have three or four good hitters, and you bide your time until they get back up again,” Linville said. “Our lineup is deep, and that’s hard for other teams to deal with. That will be a real strength for us.”
Blaine’s surge in baseball participation comes at a time when baseball is losing ground to other sports.
In the last two decades, the growth in high school baseball participation hasn’t kept pace with population growth, and participation has even declined some years, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations’ annual athletic participation survey.
Blaine’s big turnout means the Borderites will have three teams for the first time in at least a decade, said school district athletic director Wayne Vezzetti.
That’s not typical for schools in the Northwest Conference, Linville said.
“There are schools in our conference that are really good baseball schools that aren’t fielding three steams anymore,” Linville said. “High turnout tends to be a product of success. We’ve struggled through some tough times and it’s exciting to see some of the fruits of our labor.”