By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
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Jacob Pleines, senior, Quilcene, pitcher/outfielder — Despite missing nearly three weeks due to injury, last year's area MVP struck out 76 and walked only seven to earn his third All-Peninsula nod.
Jordan Shepher, senior, Port Angeles, pitcher/designated hitter — Second-team All-Olympic League pitcher and designated hitter. Fanned 31 and had a 2.70 earned run average on the mound. Batted .383 with 17 RBIs.
Cody Russell, senior, Port Townsend, pitcher/infield — Two-time All-Peninsula honoree had 44 strikeouts in 35 innings. Received Olympic League honorable mention at pitcher.
Reece Hagen, senior, Forks, catcher — Evergreen League honorable mention. Hit .275 with 22 walks, including being hit by pitch 10 times. Tough for opposition base runners to run against.
Dylan Lott, freshman, Sequim, infield — Led Wolves in runs (19), doubles (9), walks (13), and tied for lead in RBIs (14). Earned Olympic League honorable mention.
Logan Ciaciuch, junior, Port Angeles, infield — Batted .368 with six doubles, two triples, 10 RBIs and 12 runs. Selected Second Team All-Olympic League.
Evan Hurn, sophomore, Sequim, infield — Second team All-Olympic League honoree batted .359 with three doubles, a team-leading three triples and drove in a tied for the team-high 14 RBIs.
Lane Dotson, freshman, Chimacum, utility — Named All-Nisqually League First Team. Batted .279, including .339 in league play. Had one triple and drove in six runs.
Brett Wright, senior, Sequim, outfield — Second-team All-State and All-Olympic League First Team honoree. Led team with .443 batting average, 27 hits and 15 stolen bases.
Jacob King, senior, Port Townsend, outfield/pitcher —Batted .351 with nine RBIs and stole 14 bases in 17 attempts. Also had solid year on the mound. Named to All-Olympic League Second Team.
Jace Bohman, sophomore, Port Angeles, outfield — All-Olympic League First-Team outfielder batted .333 with three doubles, eight runs and 10 RBIs.
Coach of the Year:Dave Ditlefsen Sequim —The young Wolves, loaded with freshmen and sophomores, finished second in the Olympic League and came within one game of making the state tournament. Sequim went 13-9 overall and 10-6 in league play.
Honorable Mention — Travis Paynter, Port Angeles; Larsson Chapman, Port Angeles; Sean Dwyer, Port Townsend; Javier Contreras, Forks; A.J. Prater, Quilcene; Nigel Christian, Sequim; Ryan Mudd, Port Angeles; Tanner Rhodefer, Sequim; Reis Lawson, Forks; Daniel Harker, Sequim; Eathen Boyer, Port Angeles; Reece Moody, Forks, Dusty Bates, Sequim; Nate Weller, Quilcene; Joe Hoffman, Port Townsend.
“Even before he got to high school he would come to the batting cages near the old Hollywood video in sixth and seventh grades and take batting practice or throw with his dad,” said Sequim baseball coach Dave Ditlefsen.
“It didn't come naturally to him, he just worked at it and has excelled.”
Johnston, the All-Peninsula Baseball MVP, just wanted to be a better player.
“It all starts when you are young,” Johnston said of building up his skills.
“The hard work is important in building a mindset.
“When I was really young I would play 10s with my dad, a game where you try and hit the zone and throw strikes.”
Later, Johnston would surround himself with older, more experienced players.
“I started going up and playing with the high school players at the school, hitting and throwing and getting instruction,” the left-hander said.
The hard work continued for the Johnston after Little League when he played for select clubs based in Bremerton when he was 14 and 15, and Gig Harbor when he was 16.
“I played travel ball and it opened my eyes up to what else is out there,” Johnston said.
“When you are here on the Peninsula, it's hard to see what real talent is out there and you can get surprised.”
He kept up the hard work, establishing himself as Sequim's top hurler in his sophomore season.
“For the last three years he's been our ace,” Ditlefsen said.
“He had great control and the ability to throw three pitches for strikes, a fastball, a curve and a changeup.”
Johnston wasn't blessed with a blazing pitching arm early on, but succeeded by developing control and off-speed pitches.
“He was successful coming up without being a really dominant power pitcher,” Ditlefsen said.
“He developed control and his secondary pitches before he matured and gained the arm strength necessary to blow the ball past batters.”
This season, Ditlefsen counted on Johnston and fellow senior Brett Wright to provide leadership for a youthful Wolves team.
“Nick really lead by example. He worked hard, approached the game well and I think the younger guys took a lot away from him,” Ditlefsen said.
Johnston felt he offered leadership through effort as opposed to exhortation.
“I think I was more of a silent leader,” Johnston said.
“We didn't necessarily have elected captains, more like unspoken captains, but the team knew who the leaders were and I tried to set a good example.”
His on-field performance for the Wolves helped him in that effort.
Johnston allowed opponents a meager .209 batting average, racking up an impressively low 2.09 earned run average in his 51 innings pitched.
His 63 to 24 strikeout-to-walk ratio was strong, and he finished with a 4-4 overall record with two saves while often facing the opposition's top pitchers.
“He just battled out there,” Ditlefsen said.
“It's having the three pitches like Nick does that can make a high school pitcher so tough.
“Fastball hitters can catch up if they've seen it enough, but Nick can use his curve and his changeup so well [that] he can just keep kids guessing at the plate.”
Ditlefsen was particularly fond of Johnston's changeup.
“When he's rolling, his changeup is almost unhittable,” Ditlefsen said.
“He throws that for strikes and it looks like a fastball when it comes out of his hand.
“I've seen hundreds of kids swing and miss at the change.
“Once he gets a batter thinking about what pitch is coming, he can blow them away with a fastball, trick them with the change or freeze them with a curve.”
When not on the mound, Johnston aided Sequim at the plate and in the field at first base.
Johnston batted .300 for the year, was second on the Wolves with five doubles and tied for the team lead in RBIs with 14.
In the field, Johnston was second on the team in putouts with 73, picked off two batters from the mound and caught one player stealing.
“He was a very solid defensive first basemen and really fielded well at pitcher for us,” Ditlefsen said.
Johnston said his most memorable moment of the season came with a playoff berth on the line in Sequim's 8-4 victory at home on Senior Night against Bremerton.
Johnston started and pitched well, leaving the game having allowed no runs in six innings of work.
Wolves closer Zach Rigg relived him in the last inning, but struggled, allowing four runs before being pulled in favor of placing Johnston back in as pitcher.
“I came back in and was able to close out my own game and get us in the playoffs,” Johnston said.
“It was the most fun game of the year for me.”
Johnston's all-around ability caught the eye of numerous NWAC (formerly NWAACC) community college baseball programs.
“I had about five or six NWAC schools —Tacoma, big offer from Olympic, offer from Clark, checked out Lower Columbia — I went all around to many community colleges,” Johnston said.
The program at Edmonds Community College impressed him the most, and they ultimately signed him to pitch next spring.
“They have an outstanding program,” Johnston said.
“They just won the NWAC tournament this year and took second last year and have a really nice brand new turf field.”
Ditlefsen is confident Johnston will step in and be successful at the next level.
“I think they [Edmonds] are going to love him,” Ditlefsen said.
“He will come in and outwork everybody on the team and find a spot for himself.”
Johnston is planning to keep doing what's worked so well for him in his past; rely on his work ethic to sustain his success.
“Coming in as a freshman I know I'm not the biggest, fastest or strongest guy,” Johnston said.
“I've done well around here, but I know I'm not going to be the top dog [at Edmonds].
“But I'm going to approach it the right way, get my work in and just try to get better.”