Seasoned squad ready for action

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SNOQUALMIE - Losing only two players from last year's squad, the Mount Si Wildcats baseball team looks to harness its abundance of veteran experience to propel it to the upper ranks of the Kingco conference.

Coach Gary McGregor returns for his 10th season as the Wildcats' skipper, among the longest current active tenures for any coach in the Kingco 3A Conference.

Among the top seniors in the group of 10 for the Wildcats are pitcher/outfielder Alex Smart, who was the top hitter last season for the team. Smart, who has accepted a football scholarship to Eastern Washington University, will be playing his final year of competitive baseball as Eastern does not offer the sport. He is looking to go out with a bang.

"Nothing short of a berth to probably the state tournament," Smart said of his team's future.

Also among the top returning players are senior pitcher/third baseman Ian Opsal, senior utility player Evan Hillburn and junior catcher Brandon Sales. There are a couple of experienced newcomers this year including senior outfielder Alec Sattler.

McGregor is excited about the current and future state of the program thanks to a record turnout of athletes.

"We have an excellent nucleus of seniors coming back. We have a very good group of juniors. On JV we have a good group of sophomores, which I'm looking forward to next year, if not, help from them this year," said McGregor. "We kept 20 freshmen for the C team. We have 53 kids in our program this year. We had 67 kids try out, more than we've ever had try out before."

According to McGregor, the Wildcats are expected to battle once again with Newport and Issaquah for the top spot in Kingco. As for predictions, McGregor is confident.

"We should make the playoffs, top six," he said.

The future may be bright for the program, but McGregor thinks that all Mount Si sports should share in that growth.

"Hopefully the future looks good for Mount Si athletics, not just baseball," said McGregor. "I've got to believe that as kids turn out for sports and figure out what we're all about that they'll participate in other sports as well, because we have an unusual amount of baseball players that just play baseball."

Hillburn, who played for the boys' basketball team last season, thinks unity will be key to the team's success.

"What we had in basketball was really good team unity. Our team's really tight with each other and if we could possibly get that on this field right here there's no stopping us," Hillburn said.

Smart says the team is confident.

"We honestly believe that we have a chance at coming home with a ring," he said. "We know that we're as good, if not better, than 95 percent of the teams in the state."

Mount Si opens its Kingco 3A schedule with a road game at Liberty on March 23. The Wildcats play their home opener March 25 against Sammamish. All games this season are weather permitting, and except for the game April 12 at Mercer Island, start at 4 p.m. That Mercer Island road game will start at 6:30 p.m.

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