SPORTS: Wilder Baseball has new coach, but familiar look

By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — When Kyle Kelly showed up at Wilder baseball practice earlier this month, first-year head coach Chad Wagner didn’t know what the former Port Townsend player had to offer.

To get the scoop on Kelly, Wagner called former Wilder Baseball coach Rob Merritt, who gave him a direct answer.

“He said, ‘Yes, you want him,’” Wagner said.

That want turned to need when Michael Konopaski broke his hand during Wilder’s opening-weekend series against Pacific Tech.

The do-everything Konopaski likely won’t return until the middle of July.

Wagner was counting on him to start at pitcher and at a few infield positions for Wilder (5-3), which hosts Sequim U-18 for a doubleheader tonight at Civic Field starting at 5 p.m.

“Anything I needed, he can do it,” Wagner said of Konopaski, a recent graduate of Port Angeles High School.

Enter Kelly.

As a junior at Port Townsend High School in 2012, Kelly was named Olympic League Second Team and was on the Peninsula Daily News’ All-Peninsula baseball team.

He spent his senior year of high school at Wasatch High School in Heber City, Utah, where he was selected to the 3A All-State First Team.

In April, he signed a letter of intent to play baseball at the College of Eastern Utah.

But for now, he is back in Port Townsend, and back with Wilder, which he helped lead to the Babe Ruth World Series last summer.

He gives Wilder another starting pitcher and will also start at third base.

Kelly isn’t the only one making a return to the North Olympic Peninsula by suiting up for Wilder.

Jordan Shepard is a left-handed pitcher and outfielder who attended Port Angeles before moving to Nevada, where Wagner said he was an All-State second team honoree this season.

Wagner, also the Port Angeles High School coach, said he believes Shepard will play his senior year with the Roughriders.

Wilder will also have pitcher-outfielder Michael Dean, a Forks graduate who spent this past year as a redshirt at Centralia.

“He’s dangerous at the plate because he’s got power — raw power,” Wagner said.

The remainder of the Wilder roster is made up of players who played high school baseball on the Peninsula this year, including two more Konopaskis.

Marcus (Michael’s twin) will be the team’s main catcher, and Brady is entrenched as the starting shortstop.

Wagner said the plan is to start Marcus Konopaski three times in each four-game weekend series.

However, in Wilder’s sweep of Aberdeen earlier this month, Konopaski wanted to catch all four games.

So, Wagner let him.

“He came to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m catching,’” Wagner said.

“And I understood that.”

When Marcus Konopaski isn’t behind the plate, Sequim’s Brett Wright and Port Townsend’s Emmett Davis are expected to handle the catching duties. Talon Cameron, who played with the Port Angeles JV team this year, might also see some time at catcher.

Other Port Angeles players on the Wilder roster are first baseman Larsson Chapman, infielder Ryan Mudd, and outfielders Kevin Herzog and Brian DeFrang.

Sequim has two players on Wilder, Wright and Nick Johnston.

Along with catching, the speedy Wright will also play outfield.

Johnston will platoon at first with Chapman — he was Olympic League Second Team at first — as well as start on the mound.

Wagner, a former Sequim pitcher himself, is excited to work with Johnston, and has already seen results.

After being shelled against Pacific Tech, Johnston pitched a one-hit shutout against Aberdeen, striking out 11.

Wagner said Port Townsend pitcher Cody Russell also has made strides under the tutelage of Wagner, showing significant improvement in the second game he pitched.

“It takes a true athlete to make that transition so fast,” Wagner said of Russell.

Port Townsend is also represented by outfielder Devon Courtney and infielder Harry Goodrich.

Courtney has been a pleasant surprise to Wagner.

“With the bat, he’s really good, and he’s the fastest guy on the team,” Wagner said.

The team will be coached by three Wilder alumni.

Wagner is in his first year at the helm of the Wilder, which is in its 35th year as one of the top select baseball teams for 16- to 18-year-olds in the Pacific Northwest.

He was Wilder’s pitching coach two years ago, before serving in the same capacity last year with the Kitsap Bluejackets of the West Coast League, a summer wood bat league for college baseball players.

He has also been the pitching coach at Lower Columbia College, where he started his college career before moving on to the University of Hawaii-Pacific.

“It’s a great honor,” Wagner said, adding that he’s happy to leave the college game for a more stable lifestyle in Sequim.

“It was handed down from Scott Brodhun to Merritt, and basically handed down from Merritt to me.

“I’m excited to give back to the program that gave a lot to me.”

Under Merritt last year, Wilder made its second-ever World Series appearance.

Wagner’s assistant coaches are Port Angeles graduates Zac Moore, a long-time Wilder assistant, a Grant Smithson.

Wagner said this year’s Wilder schedule is a little different from previous years.

Through his contacts from Lower Columbia College and Longview, Wagner was able to line up opponents from southwestern Washington travel to play in Port Angeles.

“They wanted to see Civic Field,” he said.

Wilder will play only home games through early July, including the annual Firecracker Tournament at Civic Field from July 4-7.

The Firecracker Tournament will feature six teams this year: Wilder, Sequim U-18, Seattle Titans, Victoria Selects, Washington Nationals and a new team from Kingston.

After that, Wilder hits the road, playing a tournament in Clakamas, Ore., starting July 11, and the state tournament in Ephrata from July 17-21.

Then comes the regional tournament in Klamath Falls, Ore. (July 30-Aug. 4).

If Wilder is able to repeat its success of last year, when it won the regional title, it will play in the Babe Ruth World Series in Covington County, Ala.

_____



Sports reporter Lee Horton can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5152 or at lhorton@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 18. 2013 9:42AM
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