Baseball preview | Eastlake brings back veteran core

The Eastlake baseball team has a new face at the helm for the 2009 season — sort of.

The Eastlake baseball team has a new face at the helm for the 2009 season — sort of.

Skip Hulet, who served as an assistant for seven years between 1998 and 2005, has replaced long-time head coach JT D’Amico. Hulet, who teaches at Inglewood Junior High, was the head coach at Juanita High School the last three seasons where he led the Rebels to a 27-36 record and a post-season appearance in 2008.

He said he is excited to take over a program that finished one win away from the postseason with a 11-10 record, and graduated very few seniors.

“I would say we’ve got all-around strength,” Hulet said. “I don’t think there’s too many weaknesses that you’ll find.”

The Wolves return their top three hitters from last season in senior infielder Nick Smith (.385), junior infielder Michael Russo (.367) and senior catcher Nick Andrews (.345).

Eastlake also brings back some experience to the mound. Senior Brennan Menninger worked more innings than any other KingCo 4A pitcher last year putting in 57 innings. He went 5-4 with a 3.19 ERA and 29 strikeouts. Senior pitcher Ryan Vernon saw over 35 innings and had a 3.76 ERA.

“We’ve got some good hitting, we’ve got some solid pitchers,” Hulet said. “We’re not going to win anything league-wise as far, as we won’t be the best hitting team, we won’t be the best defensive team, but we’re an all-around solid team.”

Other key components returning from last year’s squad include senior first baseman Kelly Rockey (11 RBI) and senior Jeff Grotjahn (8 stolen bases) and junior Kyle Henselman (.304 batting average).

Hulet said he knows winning the KingCo 4A won’t be an easy task this year, especially with the addition of Issaquah, Newport and Skyline. He also said his team is focused on returning to the KingCo playoffs — a place they last ventured in 2006.

“The guys really want to get back to being a post-season contender,” Hulet said. “At the front of their minds right now is making the post-season.”

The top four teams from the KingCo Crest and the top four teams from the KingCo Crown will advance to the league tournament.

Eastlake begins its season at 4 p.m., March 16 at home against non-league Thomas Jefferson.