A lot of questions surround the Thunder Mountain baseball program as it begins its second season today in Petersburg, questions that this weekend’s two doubleheaders against the Ketchikan Kings and Vikings will help to answer.
The Falcons took 13 players, with seven returning from last year’s inaugural edition, to Petersburg to start the season.
Thunder Mountain laid the foundation last season and this year, they hope to build upon the groundwork.
“We have a lot of guys who have bought into the program,” co-manager Matt Greely said. “Having people besides the coaching staff echoing the messages we’ve been trying to get across has really helped our development. The coaches don’t all have to enforce a rule because now we have players willing to step up.
“A big strength for this team is its work ethic,” he continued. “They’re an adaptable group and very flexible.”
Co-manager Bill McCauley said things will begin to work themselves out this weekend.
“We really haven’t settled on anything,” he said. “We have a general idea, of course, and we’ll play it by ear.”
Greely said a number of guys will get a look on the mound before the final rotation is set. Ben Bullock, Jackson Pavitt, Xavier Dunn, Camden Thomas, Dylan Johnson and Dustin Rumfeld all will get a shot to earn a spot in the rotation.
“We don’t have a number one since we haven’t played any games yet,” he said. “There’s a wide range of abilities on the pitching staff, and they’re all coming off a year when they got a chance to throw in big
varsity games. For a lot of guys, especially the younger ones, that was really crucial to their development as pitchers.
“All of the innings are open. The innings are out there to be earned.”
The roster has already taken a big hit behind the plate where Chris Luck, the team’s lone all-conference selection from last season, was expected to call games. Luck will likely undergo season-ending knee surgery after injuring himself during practice.
“My perspective is to stay positive and keep the team positive,” said Luck, who hopes to help lead from the bench this season before returning healthy next year. “Our team’s really strong — we practice hard and play hard, and all we do is compete.”
Bullock, Thomas and Gus Swanton will likely see the bulk of innings behind the plate.
Chatham Miller and Dunn are early candidates to play first base, while several guys are in the rotation up the middle and at third, including Jon Correa, Brett Underwood, Pavitt, Rumfeld, Swanton, Johnson, and Bullock. Thomas will get a shot at the hot corner.
“They’re all versatile and can play multiple infield positions,” Greely said. “Last year was a growing experience. We felt like our defense wasn’t quite as aggressive as we wanted, and we had guys playing positions they weren’t accustomed to. We weren’t up to the speed of the game, basically. None of these guys had ever experienced varsity baseball, so we were catching up to the learning curve.
“Learning how to play the game confidently and aggressively is what we’re working toward.”
There are several candidates to fill in the outfield as well.
“It’s a young outfield, but an energetic group,” Greely said. “Our versatility will be a strength, and we have guys who can play more than one position out there.”
All in all, the coaching staff feels there are a lot of options they’ll have to explore as the season gets underway before settling on a more permanent rotation.
“Versatility is a theme for our team,” Greely said. “Our guys aren’t one-dimensional, and we have lots of guys who are used to being shuffled around into different positions.”
The lineup also isn’t set yet.
“We’re still determining that,” Greely said. “One thing that isn’t working in our favor is we didn’t have games in Arizona like JDHS. Situational hitting is something that needs to be a strength for us. That’s what we’ve been stressing more than anything, and being able to recognize the ball right out of the pitcher’s hand. We need to have a good approach at the plate.”
TMHS plays a doubleheader today and tomorrow, opening with Ketchikan at 10 a.m. and finishing with Petersburg at 1 p.m. both days.