The W.F. West baseball team came in a year ahead of schedule last season. This time around, with a new conductor at the helm, the Bearcats have a whole lot of open track to take on with a full head of steam.
Last season saw the Bearcats take a roster with just two seniors — admittedly both all-area talents — on it into a deep playoff run, taking the No. 9 seed in the state tournament, getting hot at just the right time, and surging to a third-place finish for the second time in five years.
That was without a doubt a solid result for W.F. West. Now, the Bearcats want more, and they want last year to be a launch point.
“That experience of them doing that, taking third last year, the experience of playing in those big games will hopefully pay off for us,” first-year coach Jesse Elam said.
And even with experience, the Bearcats aren’t exactly top-heavy with seniors.
Going up the middle, Deacon Meller is back behind the plate, with Weston Potter and Ross Kelley teaming up in the middle infield.
At the center of it all will be a true, honest-to-goodness pitching staff, with seniors ready to shine. Hunter Lutman is back to lead the group, with a fastball touching the 90s that will be whizzing past batters at Story Field for Lower Columbia College next year. Beyond him, fellow seniors Riggs Westlund and Waylen Land look to be reliable options to eat up innings as depth.
Once the Bearcats get a lead, Elam has Gavin Fugate to give the ball to, aiming to use him as a true closer.
It’s not all seniors on the mound, though. Freshmen Miles Martin and Connor Coleman have made two appearances apiece already, combining to allow three earned runs in nine innings against State contenders in Selah, Lynden, and Ridgefield.
“That’s huge, to have those guys come up and throw strikes and compete,” Elam said.
Elam himself is a new face in the program. The Centralia alum’s coaching journey brought him back to Lewis County, where he helped out with the Bearcats’ softball program last year.
This time around, he’s back on the bigger diamond, taking the reins and looking to take Chehalis home.
“The way that I have tried to coach all of my teams is just high-intensity, flying around, and playing hard,” he said. “Play hard and put pressure on the other team as much as we can. On the other end of it, control the zone defensively, and control the zone offensively. I think if we can do those things, we can come out on top a lot.”