There's a lot of confidence in the air at baseball practice for the St. Helens Lions and it's with good reason.
St. Helens longtime coach Jeff Timmins has an almost embarrassment of riches. The team has mostly seniors — 11 of the 16 varsity players, a seasoned pitching staff, and could have the best defense in the league.
"We're excited," Timmins said. "With this many seniors, four or five juniors and a sophomore we will be in the hunt."
Defensively the Lions are formidable, but how good their offense is remains to be determined. Timmins is convinced that it will come around as the season progresses.
Timmins has been coaching the Lions for the last eight years. He was a longtime jayvee coach and had one year where he served as interim coach.
"We have a couple of kids that are new to the varsity, but for the most part they are all seniors," Timmins said. He noted he had one player who took a year off, returning as a senior, and another that transferred back.
Caleb Edwards, an all-league pitcher last year, leads a bull pen with a lot of depth. Drew Sullivan was honorable mention last year, and Joe Rea returns to the line-up after a junior year at Sherwood. Hunter Vanderwerf spent some time on the mound last season, as did Jacobi Allen, the No. 1 catcher on the team. Trevor Fitzgerald, a sophomore, threw a bit for the Lions as a freshman.
Cannon Beasley will catch in relief and also play first base. Jackson Hald will also play a little first base and also be the DH (Designated Hitter).
The middle infield, second and short, will shift around a bit, depending on who's pitching and other considerations. That will include Edwards, Sullivan, Joe Rea, and Cody McKay.
Third will be occupied by Garrett Harris and Jarett Hembree.
Hunter Vanderwerf and Jared Hora return to the outfield. Ashton Smith also returns and Levi Vanderwerf has moved up to the varsity, and could see time in the outfield. Trevor Fitzgerald will play a utility role and see time mostly in the outfield.
There is a group of other players out vying for spots on the varsity.
"We're pretty loaded defensively, but it's hard to tell just from the cage offensively," Timmins said. "We've struggled a bit in the past like last year, but by the end of the year we've started to come on better (offensively). Jacobi (Allen) has a lot of power but he's never had the season he expects of himself. Joe Rea as a sophomore hit .480. Jackson Hald has struggled at times, but he has a big bat. Caleb Edwards looks to be big and Drew Sullivan could have a big year if he stays healthy."
Timmins sees Wilsonville being tough and said Rex Putnam is always good. Hillsboro had a lot of young talent last year.
"I think it's a four-way race," Timmins said. "Some teams are still playing basketball so they could have a late start. With four teams in the hunt, we could beat each other up."
The Lions have pre-league games at home March 17 and 19. They go to a game in Redmond and have a four-game tournament in Pendleton. The team starts league play with Putnam, then Wilsonville.
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