SPORTS: Wilder Baseball hosts regional championships Wednesday through Sunday in Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — Never underrate Wilder Baseball.

Teams overlook the elite Senior Babe Ruth team at their own peril.

Wilder, based in Port Angeles but with players from throughout the North Olympic Peninsula, has captured the state championship nine times and been runner-up at regionals eight of those times. The team claimed third place the other time.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Wilder coach Rob Merritt is expecting his team to finish in the top four of the 2011 Senior Babe Ruth (ages 16-18) regional championships.

Especially since Wilder is hosting the 10-team regionals starting today through Sunday at Civic Field.

“Our goal is to make it to that last day,” Merritt said.

Pool play starts today and goes through Saturday with two divisions of five teams each.

The top two teams of the American and National divisions advance to the finals Sunday.

The top team in one division plays the runner-up in the other division in the semifinals and then the two winners meet for the regional championship at 4 p.m with the regional champion advancing to the World Series on Aug. 6-13 in Ephrata.

Wilder, 12-9, started the season 0-5 but since that sputtering beginning has won 12 of 16 games.

Wilder won its own Firecracker Classic on Independence Day weekend and claimed runner-up honors at big tournaments in Salem, Ore., and Clackamas, Ore.

Merritt plans to use a stable of five strong starting pitchers, including A.J. Konopaski, Cody Sullivan, Easton Napiontek, Brian Senf and Cole Uvila. Chimacum’s Austin McConnell, the team catcher, also will be used in the closer role.

Merritt is no stranger to what it takes to win regionals.

He was on the 1987 Wilder team that won regionals and went to the World Series.

The Port Townsend High School graduate played third base for Wilder.

This year Wilder, which didn’t play at state because of an automatic regional berth as host, needs to finish in the top two in the American Division against Portland Baseball, Casper (Wyo.) Cardinals, Calgary Blue and Missoula (Mont.) Pioneers to advance to the finals.

Merritt is wary of Portland, the defending regional champion and World Series runner-up that also has several college-bound prospects.

Wilder beat Portland 14-6 at the Clackamas tournament earlier this season.

“Portland has two teams, though, and I don’t know if we will be playing the same one we played in Oregon,” Merritt said.

Wilder’s coach doesn’t know about his other division opponents, which includes state champions from Wyoming and Montana and the Alberta provincial champion.

Wilder is more familiar with at least one of the National teams, which includes Aberdeen Merchants, Toyota Bash from King County, Kitsap Baseball, Siskiyou Jaxx from South Oregon and Idaho state champion Bayview Whitecaps.

Wilder swept a three-game series at Aberdeen but has not played Kitsap or Toyota Bash.

Kitsap played in the Firecracker Classic but was in the opposite pool from Wilder, and the two teams never met.

Toyota Bash was runner-up in the North Washington state tournament while Kitsap was fourth.

Kitsap is taking the place of the British Columbia provincial champion, which decided not to play at regionals.

The North Washington champion, Puget Sound Roxx — the 2009 World Series winner — received an automatic berth to the World Series and is not playing at regionals.

Wilder opens play tonight against Missoula at 7:30, then plays Portland on Thursday at 7 p.m., Calgary at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and Casper at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Daily admission is $5 or $3 for seniors and $1 for students 18 and younger. Children 10 and younger are free.

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