WALLA WALLA — After leading the NWAACC in home runs and finishing in the top five in total bases, slugging percentage, hits and batting average, the Walla Walla Community College baseball team is looking to its offense to improve on last year’s 27-17 finish.
The Warriors return first-team all-NWAACC first baseman Jarod Gonzales, who led the league with 11 home runs and finished third with 47 RBIs.
“Having a full lineup of guys who can swing it, it does take some pressure off the pitching staff,” WWCC coach Dave Meliah said. “That’s something we’ve talked about with our pitchers — you don’t have to be perfect.”
Outside of Gonzales, Walla Walla will also return first-team all league utility player Jesse Houser, second-team infielder Ryan Neal and second-team outfielder Trevor Jones.
Jones, who batted .345 last season, and Houser, who batted .333, will look to improve on the Warriors’ 19-9 East Region record from last season.
Walla Walla’s conference mark earned them the No. 2 spot in the East Region and a berth in the regional tournament.
But after going out two-and-out in the conference tournament last season, the Warriors’ sophomore-laden roster is eager to get back.
“Our playoffs didn’t go very well,” Meliah said. “We lost the first one, 11-10, in 10 innings and we had eight errors. That one should’ve been a 10-4 win. The second game we lost 2-1 — it was just a pitcher’s duel.”
The Warriors lost 11 players from last year’s roster, with nine of those players moving on to four-year institutions.
Two of those players — pitchers Jake Campeau and Drew Christina — are leaving spots in the Warriors’ four-man pitching rotation.
Luckily, Meliah will have staff ace Jesse Houser, who finished 7-5 last season with a 3.41 ERA, back in the fold as well as fellow starter Brandon Costello, who went 4-1 with 21 strikeouts in just 36.2 innings last season.
The rest of the rotation, however, is still up in the air.
“We have Jesse, who’s really a notch above,” Meliah said. “He’s probably going to be a Division-I pitcher.
“Then the other guys are all pretty solid, pretty consistent,” he added. “That to me is a positive, when you can look down the bullpen and know that guy is going to be just as good as the previous guy was.”
The final two starter spots will likely revolve between sophomores Michael Schmidt and Kalani Omoto and freshman Clayten Ayres, Meliah said.
With so much experience throughout the roster, Meliah said both players and coaches are dedicated to one goal — reaching the NWAACC Tournament for the first time in Meliah’s tenure as head coach.
“All the kids buy in because they know all the coaches have been here, had success, played in the NWAACC tournament as players — so we all have that common goal of getting back there as teammates really,” he said.
Meliah, who played at WWCC from 1996-1997, led WWCC to the East Region championship in 1997. He then moved on to the University of San Francisco before being drafted by the Texas Rangers.
His experience allows him to connect with players who are seeking to continue their baseball careers after their stint with the Warriors.
“The fact that I went to a smaller high school and had to prove people wrong that I could play in college,” Meliah said. “My goal was always to be a Division-I player. I knew I had to go the community college route and I came here and got better, got my two-year degree, got stronger and was able to get that scholarship to a Division-I school.”
Calgary was slated to be in town to open the Warriors’s season on Saturday, but both that matchup as well as Sunday’s against Shoreline have been canceled.
The Warriors now open the nonconference slate with a home game against Olympic on March 8.