Mansfield seized opportunity

The early-season ineligibility of Joey Lynch became a blessing for Bremerton‘s baseball team a year ago. It was impetus to move Alex Mansfield into the starting lineup at second base. Mansfield got off to such a great start, that Lynch, now playing at Olympic College, was moved to the outfield when he returned to the lineup.

“It was the old classic, ‘I got the position, I’m not giving it back,’” said Bremerton coach Mike McKnight. “Alex just kind of came out of nowhere, but he had a great year. He hit over .400.”

Mansfield, who earned first-team all-Olympic League honors. has been impressive in early-season drills, especially defensively, where he could be called upon to play some shortstop this season when versatile Joe Bollinger takes his turn on the mound.

“He’s gotten smoother and better,” McKnight said. “He’s made a couple bad-bounce plays where you just kind of look at him and go, ‘Oooh!’ He can handle the glove. He’ll be our leadoff hitter. Hopefully, he’ll repeat what he did last year.”

Bollinger, unlike Mansfield, didn’t take the league by surprise. He was a first-team utility player as a sophomore and repeated as a junior after hitting better than .400.

“He’s our best hitter. He’s got good power at the plate and drives the ball into the gaps. Joe reminds me a little of Terrel Hansen,” McKnight said of the former Bremerton athlete who went on to play at Washington State and later spent 10 years in the minors. “Terrel was one of those guys who could do everything. He was a good hitter, but could play wherever you wanted him to play.”

The versatile Bollinger has pitched, played shortstop, second, outfield and even caught a couple games for the Knights. “He’ll do whatever you want him to,” McKnight said of the 6-footer. “That’s what I like about Joe. He just wants to play baseball. Third base or outfield might be his best spot. He sort of sees himself going on (to college) as a right-fielder,” McKnight said. “He’s got a cannon for an arm.”

That arm will likely be pitching a lot of innings for the Knights.

Bollinger, who uses a high leg-kick, will lead a staff that includes senior lefty Cory Beahm.

“If he brings his ‘A’ game, he can be tough,” McKnight said of Beahm, a southpaw with good mound presence who can be sneaky-fast at times.

Other pitchers, all untested at the varsity level, include senior Briggs and juniors Charlie Marza, Noah Garguile and Ron Gingrey. Mansfield was even pitching during a drill inside the school’s gym earlier this week.

“All throw fairly well, but there’s not one that can say, ‘I’m the guy.’ It’s probably going to be Joe,” McKnight said of Bollinger. “ He doesn’t really want it, but he knows we need him. He’s been a leader since his sophomore year. He’s the guy they all look up to.”

McKnight’s also hoping for another repeat year from his only other returner — senior third baseman Josh Walesby, who also hit over .400 last season.

“He’s solid,” McKnight said. “He’s kind of a big, square guy, but he’s faster than he looks.”

Now, the veteran coach can only hope that some other players, stepping up from the junior varsity ranks, will fill in the other holes.

Defensively, McKnight thinks the Knights will be OK up the middle. Junior catcher Rood-Olson “is coming around,” and McKnight said fleet center fielder Reggie Williams “can go out and get a ball as nice as anyone, and there’s a little room out there at Legion Field.” And in addition to Bollinger and Mansfield, Marza gives the Knights another solid middle infielder.

Beahm, Briggs and Garguile are vying for time at first base. Gingrey’s got the inside track at third. Outfield candidates are senior Taylor Empolen-Smith and juniors Dean Jacobs, a lefty who can also pitch, and Anthony Belgarde. Derrick West’s an infielder/outfielder.

Tryouts attracted just 31 players, and after cuts, the Knights were left with just 26 varsity and junior varsity players.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t lose any more,” McKnight said.

Bremerton lost its opener, 7-2, againt North Mason in Belfair on March 8. It’s scheduled to host Capital on Monday, March 18.

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