NASELLE — Naselle’s baseball team has been a state tourney contender the last three years. In 2016 they were a hit away from reaching 1B finals. In 2017 they made semifinals again before losing to Almira-Coulee-Hartline.

Last year a bad game against Colton at state quarterfinals left them out of the top four, but the Comets had probably their best lineup, top-to-bottom, and their deepest pitching staff of any of the three years. Whereas the 2016 team had finished below .500 in the regular season, last year’s group had a late-season stretch in which it outscored opponents 177-5. That included lopsided shutouts of Ilwaco, Ocosta and Clatskanie, a 17-0 wipeout of Quilcene to start the playoffs, and a 9-4 playoff win over Evergreen Lutheran in which Naselle entered the sixth inning with a 9-0 lead.

The team used to be centered around Cole Dorman, Ethan Lindstrom, and the now-graduated Donny Edwards. Almost always one of the three would pitch, the other two would take the all-important middle infield positions, and the team hoped for the best everywhere else. But that has changed thanks to player development. By last year, the team could afford to use Edwards in center-field, where he made several spectacular plays, without creating middle-infield emergencies. This year, Lindstrom started the opener on the mound, but Dorman was bumped over to first base. At second was Daniel Holt, who made a diving stop, while Joe Strange played shortstop.

Dorman and Lindstrom are still the team’s all-around stars, as ace pitchers and dangerous hitters. Jimmy and Joe Strange emerged as hard-hitters last season, giving the team lineup depth. Warren Wirkkala had the game-winning hit against Astoria’s JV team last year, and coach Randy Lindstrom plans to bat him leadoff or second this year. Jason Harman got significant playing time as an eighth-grader last year. Josh Townsen hit the ball harder last year than he than he had in the past.

This year’s latest in a long line of eighth-grade prospects are Kolton Lindstrom and Clay Bergeson. Lindstrom caught the opener, while Bergeson started in right-field.

Coach Randy Lindstrom said Jimmy Strange is still in the running, along with Kolton, to catch. But Strange played the opener in center field, where Lindstrom likes his speed.

The team’s top all-around player over its three-year run, Edwards, has graduated, as has slugger Carson Bergeson. The team’s depth takes a hit with Corey Gregory, Chase Haataia and Vince Fauver not turning out this year. Gregory and Haataia developed into solid pitchers last season; along with Josh Townsen, Lindstrom, Dorman and Edwards, they gave the Comets incredible pitching depth.

This year, the pitching staff still has strength at the top with its two aces, but isn’t as outrageously deep. Townsen is the third option. Coach Lindstrom views him as a crafty, finesse pitcher. He credits him with a good assortment of pitches, “a slider and a change-up, and even his fastball isn’t straight,” behaving like a cutter. Kolton Lindstrom is also developing as a pitcher.

Almira-Coulee-Hartline is the team to beat as the two-time State champ. On the regular-season schedule, an April 1-2 trip to Naches Valley and April 12 and 29 games against Ocosta should provide the best competition.

Naselle visits Knappa Thursday at 4 p.m. and hosts Lake Quinault Monday, March 18 at 4 p.m.

Aaron Mead is a sports writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact him at 360-642-8181 or aaroncmead@gmail.com.

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