Russell hopes speed, fundamentals can propel STHS to playoff berth |

Russell hopes speed, fundamentals can propel STHS to playoff berth

A new era will begin today in South Tahoe High boys baseball history.

On the surface, first-year coach Doug Russell will lock horns today in a scrimmage with Carson High School. The game will give Russell a fairly representative glimpse of his Northern Nevada 4A prep baseball brethren, but more importantly it should offer him an excellent peek at a 1999 Viking team that has him thinking playoffs.

“Without having seen the other teams, I would like to make the playoffs,” said Russell, who takes over for former Viking coach Ralph Clelan.

South Tahoe finished the 1998 season with a 7-19 record (5-17 in Division II play) and did not qualify for the playoffs.

“That may be a surprise to some, but we need to set goals as a team and have something to shoot for. It keeps everyone focused and unifies the team when you have a common purpose,” Russell said.

The Vikings will likely feature a National League style game, using overall team speed and basic offensive fundamentals to put some runs up on the board and win games.

“With the speed we have, I’d be foolish not to use our skills with baserunning and in certain other situations,” said Russell, who estimated he had four or five athletes who were likely on par with the league’s fastest base runners. “If we can get some guys on base and execute, we’re going to score some runs. We’re going to be in a lot of games this season.”

Russell said he expects shortstop Jeff Jensen to have a big senior season; the 5-foot-11 right-hander may be in line for the captain’s spot.

“We’re expecting big things from Jeff this season,” said Russell of one of his seven seniors. “He played on varsity last season and he has all the tools to do well.”

Sophomore John Capitani will likely start at catcher, juniors Tim Sprinkles and Austin Smith should platoon at first while seniors Clay Giffin (second base) and Richie McGuffin (third base) will man the rest of the infield. Junior Travis Ealy should fill in at various spots around the infield. Fellow upperclassmen Beau Barkley, Austin Merritt, Paul Wilson, Jory Mendes and Brian Summerfeldt will split time at various posts in the outfield grass.

Russell, still feeling his way in the season’s initial weeks, will count on his veterans for a great deal of leadership, … and performance.

“They are the ones that have been in the program the longest. They are the ones that are familiar with our competition,” he said. “It’s time for them to lead by example, let their play do the talking.”

Russell said he will proceed with a pitching-by-committee approach, at least in the season’s infancy, to gauge the caliber of his staff. Pitchers will be on strict pitch counts (50 pitches, 3-4 innings) and any number of players may get a shot at a spot in the starting rotation, Russell said. Specifically, lefties Sprinkles, Smith and Chris Hannum and righties Jensen, Jarred Uppendahl, T.J. Prevost and Dustin Skiles will likely compete for innings on the pitching rubber.

South Tahoe will officially begin its season – and a seven-game road trip – Friday at Fallon High School at 3:30 p.m. The Vikings will then travel to Reed HS for a Saturday doubleheader before heading to Douglas for a game the following Tuesday.

The Vikings will play their home games on Babe Ruth Field at South Tahoe Middle School, weather permitting. The facility is currently obscured by the mounds of snow that have accumulated from recent storms. The weather situation normally restricts the Vikes to mostly indoor practices and will keep the team on the road until at least March 23, … and maybe later.

“The competition is going to be real strong and we know that we’re limited by our facilities a little bit, but that’s not to be used as an excuse,” said Russell, who played college baseball at the University of California, San Diego. “The kids haven’t complained and I’m not either. We need to concentrate on the good parts of indoor baseball – the large amount of groundball work you can get in and the classroom time.”

Vital Stats:

Coach: Doug Russell, 1st season

Key Losses: P Greg Bruso,

1998 Record: 5-17 in Division, 7-19 overall

Projected Lineup: C John Capitani, 1B Austin Smith/Tim Sprinkles, 2B Clay Giffin, SS Jeff Jensen, 3B Richie McGuffin, OF Beau Barkley, OF Jarred Uppendahl, OF Austin Merritt

Pitchers: Tim Sprinkles, Austin Smith, T.J. Prevost, Jeff Jensen, Chris Hannum, Dustin Skiles

They Said It: “We’re just itchin’ to start playing. We can’t wait to get outdoors, do some running, hit the ball and see what our competition is like.” – Doug Russell

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