Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

SPORTS: Wilder Baseball on a mission to win at World Series

PORT ANGELES — There will be a group of young men visiting Weimar, Texas, this coming week who won’t be doing a lot of sight-seeing.

They will be there on business. For a purpose.

Wilder Baseball Club will be on a mission to bring back a World Series trophy to the North Olympic Peninsula.

Wilder will be playing in the 2012 Babe Ruth Baseball 16-18 World Series starting Saturday and running through Aug. 4.

This will be just the second time in 25 years that this elite baseball program of high school and budding-college stars will be in the World Series.

That first team, called the Aggies back then, went two-and-out in stifling heat and humidity when the Series was a double-elimination format.

Not necessarily the stuff of World-Series lore.

But the 2012 Wilder players plan to change that. And if big 6-foot-8 Easton Napiontek’s prediction comes true, change it in a major way.

“We’re going to win it,” he said matter-of-factly during a team practice on a sunny and cool day at Civic Field in Port Angeles on Tuesday evening.

“I feel very confident about this team. We have the skill and we’re streaking at the right time.”

Red-hot and rolling

To say Wilder caught fire at the regional championships is like saying the New York Yankees can play a little baseball.

After losing the first game 2-1 and managing only three hits, Wilder went on a rampage, winning five games in a row to capture the regional title and outscoring those five opponents 51-12.

No team came closer than four runs.

Napiontek had a lot to do with that on both sides of the plate, but especially on the mound as he earned the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the tournament, going 2-0 while completely handcuffing the opposition.

He started the rally, striking out 11 in five innings in a 15-4 blowout of the Vancouver, Wash., Jayhawks in the second game, and then he threw the 10-3 shellacking of host Kent Bulldogs on only three days’ rest.

The all-state player who just graduated from Port Angeles High School and is headed to Central Washington University, also plans to make a presence in the World Series.

“I want to pitch two or three games, at least two games,” he said.

That would give Wilder a boost right there but Napiontek is just one star in a team full of stars.

Third baseman Clark Rose — who just graduated from Klahowya High School in Silverdale and was the MVP at regionals after hitting .733 — also is confident that Wilder will do well in Weimar.

“We can play with anyone as long as we play like we can,” he said.

It was a “wake-up call” for Wilder when it lost the first game at regionals, Rose said.

“All we need to do is stay focused when we’re on the field. We were having fun when we were playing [at regionals].”

Getting early leads in the games helped keep Wilder players loose so they could have fun on the field, Rose added.

Mistakes have hurt the team at times but Wilder is solid in hitting and pitching, he said.

“We’re all hitting the ball pretty good right now.”

Rose, who was recruited to play for Wilder by manager Rob Merritt when the summer team he was planning to play on folded because of a lack of numbers, will play baseball next year at Olympic College.

Marcus Konopaski of Port Angeles, who shares catching duties with Sequim’s Tyler Campbell, also is expecting Wilder to do well in the World Series.

“I feel that if we play as a team, hit the ball well, be loud in the dugout and picking each other up, that’s when we are the most successful,” Marcus, who is on the team with his twin brother Michael, and little brother Brady Konopaski, said.

Marcus and Michael Konopaski will be starting their senior years as Roughriders in a few weeks.

Marcus made the all-regional tournament team.

Campbell, who catches half the time so Wilder can keep a fresh catcher on the field at all times, predicts wins for the team in Texas.

“I’m expecting the whole team to do our best, and we’ll see how far we will get,” the Sequim High School graduate said.

“We’re going to win.”

Campbell, an Olympic League all-star who will be attending Boise State this fall to become an athletic trainer and play club baseball, said Wilder’s pitching staff is solid.

Wilder’s pitching personality has a good mix of different kind of throwers, Campbell said.

“We have got slow, junk ballers, we have people who throw hard, and we have people who just throw strikes.”

Those hard-throwers start with Napiontek, who can overpower batters by throwing consistently in the high 80s. But he showed against Kent in the regional title game that he also can throw for strikes and get batters to hit grounders when his arm’s a little tired.

Rose also can throw heat when he’s on the mound, Campbell said.

And then there’s Port Townsend’s Kyle Kelly, who doesn’t intimidate batters with his physical presence but can surprise them with his speed.

“Kyle overpowers people,” Campbell said. “He’s having a great summer.”

Kelly, who throws consistently in the mid-80s, has compiled an outstanding 6-1 pitching record this summer.

He gives the team credit for his record.

“They play good defense behind me, which really helps, and we have lots of guys who can really hit the ball,” Kelly said.

That kind of team play should really help Wilder in the World Series, he added.

Kelly said he is using his Wilder experience as a springboard for a strong senior season at Port Townsend next spring.

“I have learned a lot from this team,” Kelly said.

George Marinan, who graduated from Kingston High School this year, is another major piece for Wilder, as he made regional all-tournament honors along with Marcus Konopaski and Justin Straight.

Marinan also is expecting Wilder to do well this coming week in the World Series.

“This is my first year with the team, but I know that Wilder has a long tradition of doing well,” he said. “I’m glad to be a part of it.

“I have full confidence that if we keep hitting the way we are, and keep pitching well, that we’ll surprise some people.”

The right-handed pitcher, first baseman and right fielder is playing for Wilder because he played against them last summer and was impressed with the organization.

“I played Big League last summer and we played against Wilder,” Marinan said.

“I liked the team, and I saw the coaches in action. I wanted to be part of that.”

And now Marinan will be part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Playing in a World Series.

Napiontek said the whole experience of playing in a World Series hasn’t even hit him yet.

“It’s pretty surreal right now,” he said.

“It’s the first time in [25] years that [this program] has been in the World Series.

“That’s pretty special.”

Wilder, the Pacific Northwest entry in the World Series, opens play Saturday against Ohio Valley at 8:30 a.m. PDT.

Opening ceremonies are at 4 p.m. PDT on Friday at Weimar Veterans’ Park.

Tournament schedules and more information will be in Friday’s editions.

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