Refreshing questions surround state champs in off-season
By addressing their few question marks in winning the state baseball title on Saturday in Mesquite, the Whittell High Warriors’ first title in 22 years managed to raise several more questions.
But that’s what happens when you’re so successful. There’s more interest in the program and, consequently, there are more questions.
— Will Don Amaral return for his third year as manager of the Warriors?
— Will Whittell ace Brandon turn pro or play college ball?
— With a heavy hit by graduation, can the Warriors make their third straight state tournament appearance next season?
Considering past seasons when the customary off-season question mark was who will be the next skipper in the school’s revolving door of baseball managers, these ponderings are refreshing.
Amaral doesn’t plan on following one of the school’s most talented groups out the school doors.
“Unless the Giants need somebody,” Amaral chided. “I anticipate being back. It’s been a great two years.”
That’s encouraging since Whittell’s talent pool needs a refill. Walking away with a 42-22 record and league, zone and state titles in two years on the job would leave some observers wondering how good a manager he is. Now will come a greater test with Amaral having to bring along a young group of ballplayers.
But he is more than capable.
As for the 17-year-old Lee, one of the toughest pitchers to hit the area has ever seen, his next step is uncertain.
Lee, 9-0 with a .15 earned run average in the Northern 2A League, plans to visit Coker College in Hartsville, S.C., in the coming weeks. The NCAA Division II college reportedly covets Lee’s catching skills.
“Coach is really pushing me to go there because he thinks it’s a good choice and I’ll get to play there and learn a lot,” Lee said.
Lee is also considering Nevada and Sonoma State. But what Lee isn’t contemplating is the real possibility that he’ll be selected in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft.
“I would be really surprised if they took me,” Lee said. “I would have to make that decision then. But I definitely want to wind up there.”
Lee’s numbers are sensational, but few pro scouts know about him because of the small league he plays in and the remoteness of Whittell High. But Amaral has tried to increase that awareness by sending scouts questionnaires on Lee’s behalf.
“I don’t think he’s going to be drafted that high or at all, so I’m pushing him to go to college,” Amaral said.
Lee’s dad, Don, also prefers that his son take the college route.
“He knows he wants to play baseball somewhere,” Don Lee said. “Brandon needs to go to school. I think he could hook up with a bigger school, but I don’t think he’d play right away. But he’ll see what’s available and choose the best place where he feels good.”
Whichever level Lee chooses, he’ll be a South Shore prep alum to watch. His composure, craftiness and competitiveness will serve him well at his next destination.
“A lot of it is his own ability,” Don Lee said. “And Brandon’s seen a lot of hitters.”
Lee will have some company from Whittell if he chooses college ball. Most of the core of Whittell’s state championship team is expected to continue playing ball next spring.
According to Amaral, shortstop Chris Hannum is taking his .600-plus batting average to either Butte or College of the Canyons; center fielder Matt Olsen is bound for Clark University in Worcester, Mass.; reliever-second baseman Joe Piccola is destined for Sonoma State to play soccer and possibly walk on the baseball team; and first baseman Thomas Hunter, who hit three homers during the state tournament, is considering several options.
The revival of baseball at Whittell has opened up more doors for students and given the local media more questions to ask after the season has concluded.
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