• Speed, power and team leadership paramount in Mariners’ push toward post-season play
By Sean Pearson
While just about anyone can appreciate the stunning vistas surrounding Mariner baseball practice on the Homer Spit, any player — or coach — on the team will tell you they would much rather be practicing on real dirt and real grass, regardless of the view.
Having no snow on the field would also be a boon.
The Homer team was scheduled to kick off their 2013 season on the road against Kenai on Thursday, but the game was cancelled and re-scheduled for May 8. That means the M’s will open their season at home on May 3 against Kodiak.
Homer High School Athletic Director Pam Newton said she hopes the Homer field will be in playable condition by then. As of last week, it was still covered with snow.
Homer Head Coach Lary Kuhns said he is excited about his team’s depth and their potential for the season. Kuhns had 26 athletes turn out for baseball, but already lost three players to injuries. The Mariners comprise three seniors, six juniors, 10 sophomores and four freshmen.
In practices — which have taken place in Alice Witte Gymnasium, on the school parking lot and on the Homer Spit until dry practice ground becomes available — Kuhns has his boys working on refining their throwing and hitting skills.
“We’ve got to have those fundamentals down,” he said. “The guys are getting a good 400-500 swings a week in the new batting cage. We have to work with what we’ve got.”
Kuhns said his coaching staff is working with a new scoring system this season that creates competition between players for starting positions.
And, while he doesn’t appoint team captains, Kuhns said senior catcher Willy Deaver has basically stepped up to assume the role — even if it’s unofficial.
“Willy has the kind of personal work ethic and verbal encouragement for his teammates that just lends itself to leadership on the field,” he said. “I’m also seeing some great stuff from Tommy Bowe and Brian Rowe in that leadership capacity.”
Bowe and Rowe, both juniors, were integral parts of the Kenai American Legion summer team that won State last year.
“We are also blessed with a very speedy sophomore named Zach Bynum, and Brian Rowe is an absolute terror on the bases,” Kuhns said. “Tommy is a big kid with a lot of power, but he’s still incredibly fast on the bases.”
That kind of speed is sure to further the Mariners’ reputation for aggressive base-running.
Zach Haning, who Kuhns said grew a good six inches since last year, will act as starting pitcher for Homer. He has been working consistently with pitching coach Mark Putney, and returns following a successful regular season last year that was disappointingly cut short by a broken finger right before Regions.
“We really had no pitching left by the time we hit Regions last year – thanks to injuries,” Kuhns said. I’m fully expecting to change that this year.”
Homer will get additional pitching help from Zach Bynum and Derek Johnson. Bynum and his brother, Dick Perez, recently moved to Homer from Oregon. Kuhns said he expects big things from all three.
Also returning is senior Lucas Schneider, who will start at shortstop when Haning is pitching.
“Lucas can be a decent relief pitcher for us, as well,” Kuhns said. “He comes in and gets the outs.”
Putney, as well as Rich Sonnen and Steve Fuson, returns to assist Kuhns this season. They are the same coaches who led the team to a strong finish last year.
The Mariners see their biggest competition this year coming in the form of the Kodiak Bears and the Wasilla Warriors. Last year, the M’s swept the Valley in regular season play, picking up wins against Wasilla, Palmer and Houston.
Homer will face Kodiak at home on May 3, and then Wasilla on May 4. Most games are double-headers.
“We’re really going to crank this up this year,” Kuhns said of his teams level of play. “I expect our first five to six guys can do anything from laying down a bunt and beating out the throw, to hitting one out of the park. We’re pretty versatile.”
All home games are played on the upper ball field at Homer High School. Away games will be covered by Dave Webb on KGTL 620 AM and 100.1 FM.
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