The White River High baseball team – for the first time in many years – has a new hand on the wheel.
Nate Barnett was tabbed to take the Hornet reins after Hall of Fame skipper Mike Williams decided to step away from coaching duties.
Barnett has not previously been a part of the Hornet program, but he has coached baseball in the region for the past 15 years.
Barnett has had a tough introduction to the high school program, greeted by seasonal Northwest weather that limited time outdoors. It’s challenging for all involved, he said, when your field is blanketed in white or soggy from rain.
Barnett is looking at a mix of some experienced varsity players combined with a healthy mix of underclassmen.
“We have a lot of quality guys coming back and a lot more younger guys who will play significant roles,” he wrote in an email. Intentionally creating an atmosphere based on competition, he’s hesitant to single out individual players this early in the season.
“I’m wanting C/JV guys to push to fit into the lineup and I’m wanting the varsity guys to work hard at keeping their spot,” he wrote. “In short, team guys are the ones who’ll rise to the top in our program.”
That said, there are Hornets in the program who have proven themselves. Braden Fjeld was a second-team all-league outfielder a season ago and returns for his senior campaign; senior Garrett Bond and junior Cole Richey were honorable mention picks a year ago.
For Barnett and his staff, the goal is to create an offense that is aggressive at the plate and on the bases. Fans will see Hornets in motion, he said, putting pressure on the opposition.
The Hornets are coming off a 2016 that saw the team advancing to the West Central/SeaKing tournament. The experience was short lived, however, as White River dropped a pair of games to be eliminated.
This spring’s schedule isn’t doing anyone any favors, with games beginning this weekend – if the weather allows. White River is slated to take to the road Friday for a 4 p.m. game at Auburn Mountainview. It helps that the Lions play on an artificial turf field.
The challenge facing any successful program is to stay on top.
That’s the spring storyline for coach Brandon Walker and the White River High girls fastpitch team.
The Hornets can expect to draw everyone’s best effort, based on recent history. White River has made six straight trips to the Class 2A state tournament and, in 2015, battled to an appearance in the state title game. A year ago, the Hornets were again in Selah for the state tourney, but dropped their first two games and were eliminated.
Still, that’s an enviable run of success – and Walker has greeted a handful of players who helped create the winning culture.
Back this year are first-team all-league shortstop Megan Vandegrift; second-team catcher Ashley Long and honorable mention selection Megan Cash. Much of the fastpitch game centers around pitching, where the Hornets have junior Maddi Pipitone heading the staff; she was a second-team all-league pick last season.
Lost to graduation were all-league first-team selection Jordanne Fray, second-team picks Brittany Harder and Natalie Vollandt and honorable mention selection Kennedy Ledbetter.
The spring weather has remained in winter mode, making turnouts difficult for teams throughout the region. Despite that, the Hornet fastpitch squad is slated to begin nonleague play Monday with a home game against Orting.