High School : : General
Monday, March 05, 2018

MIHS among the kings of KingCo

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: MIHS Baseball




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Between 1981 and 1985, boys’ basketball teams at Mercer Island (Wash.) High School won one Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) state championship (’85) and finished as runner-up three times (’81, ’82, ’84).

History repeated itself a decade later when the Islanders’ boys’ hoops team brought home state gold in 1993, ’97 and ’99, and finished second in 2002. There was no doubt about it: When it came to athletics, Mercer Island HS – established in 1957 – was a basketball school.

That title began to change hands in 2013 when former University of Washington standout ballplayer Dominic Woody took over as head of the baseball program after spending 2010 and 2012 as an assistant coach at the school.

The timing was perfect. Woody’s promotion to head coach coincided with the arrival of a couple of very talented classes of baseball players, and the program took flight. There have been three straight trips to the WIAA Class 3A state tournament, highlighted by a state championship in 2015 and a return to the state semifinals last year. It appeared that MIHS was very much becoming a baseball school.

“We have a very supportive baseball community that is very passionate about creating a positive atmosphere (around the program),” Woody told Perfect Game last week. “It’s just really been the perfect storm over these last five or six years.”

It’s a storm that is very much on the national radar. While no team from the PG High School Northwest Region (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming) was included in the PG HS Preseason Top 50 national rankings, there is an impressive list of schools in the NW Region’s top-10. Mercer Island, 21-3 in 2017, is ranked No. 2 behind only 2017 WIAA Class 4A defending state champion Puyallup HS.

The Islanders put in their first full week of practice last week and were able to get outdoors on their new artificial turf field all but one of those days. Woody and his staff enjoy tremendous support from the school’s administration and from the community, and resources are made available for such things as an all-turf field and a new pitching machine and hitting tunnel through fund-raising efforts.

“It starts with the players,” Woody said as he begins his sixth season as head coach. “There’s been a nice influx of talent over the past years at Mercer Island, and I’ve been fortunate enough to inherit some pretty talented kids. … We’ve been to the (Class 3A) final-four two of the last three years, and it goes back to the kids – they’ve really bought into the culture.”

It’s a thriving culture, too, one that has produced a combined won-lost record of 62-15 over the past three seasons; Woody’s career mark after five seasons is 87-35. He’s the type of head coach that wants his players focused on today and tomorrow but who also isn’t hesitant when it comes to taking a look back.

As a former player himself, Woody always found it interesting when a coaching staff wouldn’t address what he called “the elephant in the room,” which was a discussion about what had transpired the previous season or seasons.

All the players in the room knew exactly how the previous season had ended, and Woody believes that’s something that needs to be talked about, although not necessarily dwelled upon. Discuss the past, breathe in its lessons and then move on.

“I try to be very open and honest with my guys because I want them to be open and honest with me,” Woody said. “Last year we made it to the state semifinals where we didn’t play our best ballgame, and there were some additional circumstances that just kind of left a bitter taste in our mouth after the season.”

When Woody addressed his players at the postseason team banquet, he put things in perspective. Here was a team that finished the season 21-3 and was part of the final-four at the state tournament, but because of the loss in the semis, there were muted feelings of disappointment.

“That really speaks to where we’re at as a program and as it relates specifically to the expectations of the program, and that’s where you want to be,” he told them.

 

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THE ISLANDERS GRADUATED ONLY THREE SENIORS OFF OF LAST YEAR’S ROSTER,
including middle-fielders Jack Smith and Noah Hsue. Smith was drafted by the hometown Seattle Mariners in the 39th round of the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft, but he didn’t sign and is now a freshman at Washington State; Hsue is a freshman at the U. of Washington.

There are five seniors and one junior on this year’s roster that got at-bats in at least 18 of the team’s 24 games last spring; four pitchers that combined to throw 132 of the team’s 162 innings in 2017 are also back.

Those position players are third baseman/catcher Greg Fuchs, outfielder Alex Shanks, catcher Matt Boissoneault, infielder Nikhil Nayar, outfielder Parker Simpson – all seniors – and junior outfielder/shortstop Cole Miller.

Nayar and Shanks each hit a team-high four home runs last spring, and Shanks and Fuchs drove in 26 and 24 runs, respectively. On a side note, junior utility Teague Condor was 5-for-7 (.714) as a sophomore with four doubles, six RBI and four runs scored.

The pitchers are senior right-hander Robert Weaver (6-0, 0.89 ERA), the senior right-hander Nayar (4-0, 2.66), senior left-hander Will Hamilton (4-0, 0.55) and junior right-hander Liam Dammeier (5-1, 0.88).

Fuchs is a top-500 (No. 12 Washington) in Perfect Game’s national prospect rankings in the class of 2018 and has signed with Oregon State. Shanks is a top-500/20 who has signed with Gonzaga and Boissoneault is ranked top-500/29 and is headed to the University of Seattle; those three are this year’s team captains.

“Absolutely, those three guys are going to be the stewards of this ship,” Woody said. “Obviously, it all begins and ends with me as the head coach, but those guys, as seniors, are relied upon not to just be role models with their actions and their words, but also with the way they deal with handling ‘upper management,’ should we say?”

It is a senior class that has experienced playoff baseball at the state tournament level for three years running now and has largely been responsible for the program’s turn-around under Woody’s direction.

These players also benefitted from the emergence of a strong Little League program within the community that was created in 2003 and took off like a wildfire; Mercer Island was the Northwest representative at the 2009 Little League World Series.

Many of the players from that Little League team began trickling into the high school program during Woody’s first and second year on the job in 2013 and 2014 and graduated within the last year or two.

“That was the initial wave of these kids coming in, and it’s kind of carried through with these baseball-first type of athletes,” he said.

Mercer Island plays in the eight-team 2A/3A KingCo Baseball League, which includes six 3A programs and two 2A programs; Kirkland Juanita High School, the No. 10 team in the PG HS Northwest Region rankings, is also a member of the league.

Juanita features senior right-hander Jayson Schroeder, a Washington signee ranked No. 186 nationally (No. 1 Washington), and senior left-hander J.D. Worcester, a Santa Clara signee ranked top-500/23.

“It is a smaller league, but the talent in the league (is very good),” Woody said. “It’s a very strong league – very competitive – fun to coach in, and it definitely gets you ready for the state tournament.”

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MERCER ISLAND IS A RESIDENTIAL ISLAND COMMUNITY THAT SITS
on the south end of Lake Washington, with bridges connecting it to Seattle to the east and Bellevue to the west. Just about 24,000 people call the five-mile long, two-mile wide island home, and right around 1,500 students in grades 9-12 roam the hallways at Mercer Island High School.

Woody grew up in Richland, Wash., on the eastern side of the state, and was an all-state and third team All-American (USA Today) performer at Richland High. He went on to enjoy a stellar career at the University of Washington, where he was a first-team All-Pac 10 catcher and a third-team All-American (Collegiate Baseball) in 1999; he was named to Washington’s All-Century team in 2001.

The Marlins selected Woody in the fourth round of the 1999 MLB June Amateur Draft, and he played seven seasons in the minor leagues and independent leagues before ending his playing career in 2005. He was a member of the Class A Midwest League champion Kane County Cougars team that also included Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez; he served as the Mariners’ bullpen catcher in 2006.

His varsity assistants at Mercer Island, according to the school’s website, are Jordan Seiber, Pete Orgill and Bret DeRooy, and the junior varsity head coach is Josh Patterson. Each of those men have extensive playing and coaching backgrounds.

“I love coaching all the kids,” Woody said. “Baseball, because it really is a game of failure, really can prepare you for the difficulties that lie ahead in life. … I love the history of the game and I try to pass on some sense of ownership in what’s going on and some sort of connectivity to the origin of the game and try to make them understand that they’re part of the fabric of it going forward.”

The recent history of the game in King County, Wash., tells us that there will be several programs within its boundaries that have the personnel, the coaching and the winning attitude necessary to realistically challenge for a WIAA state championship in any of the six classes (4A, 3A, 2A, 1A, 2B, 1B) this season.

Mercer Island is certainly one of them. The Islanders reached the state semifinals a year ago playing mostly juniors, and with six full-time starters and about 90 percent of the innings-pitched returning from a 21-3 outfit, they have every reason to feel confident about their chances.

They are scheduled to open the 19-game regular-season against Hazen on March 14 and begin the 14-game, home-and-away, double round-robin 2A/3A KingCo League part of the schedule at Interlake on March 28.

Every athletic program at Mercer High School is a successful one, and this year’s boys’ basketball team just completed a 12-12 season that included an 8-6 mark and a third-place finish in the KingCo. But now it’s baseball season at a place that has suddenly become a baseball school. Year 6 of the Dominic Woody era at Mercer Island HS has arrived.

“I have the exact same goal as them: I want to get sticky with the Gatorade bath at the end of the year,” he said with a laugh. “Our goal and our plan of attack are two different things … and we’ve got to keep ourselves focused on the process of making sure we’re dealing with the ins-and-outs of everything and compartmentalizing our mistakes as much as much as possible.”


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