Sports and Schools

Baseball players sharpen skills through summer season

Coupeville
Coupeville's Aaron Curtin mans third base for the South Whidbey Legion team this summer.
— image credit: Jim Waller / Whidbey Examiner

Six Coupeville High School baseball players chose to continue to play this summer to hone their skills and help push the Wolves to the top of the Cascade Conference and beyond.

Aaron Curtin, Aaron Trumbull, Kurtis Smith and the Payne brothers, Morgan and Cole, play for the South Whidbey Junior Legion team. Ben Etzell competes for the  18U Skagit Sox.

Most of the athletes played a leading role when Coupeville captured the state Junior Baseball (13 and 14 year old) championship in the summer of 2010. They would like to see Coupeville High School have the same success.

Coming off the Junior title, a handful of players found themselves in the starting lineup for Coupeville High School as freshmen. Though talented for their age, the group was battling teams laden with upperclassmen and the results were predictable: few wins. Coupeville won only two varsity games in 2011 and three in 2012. This past spring, as juniors and sophomores, they earned 10 wins and third place in the Cascade Conference.

The last chance to reach the top for seniors-to-be Etzell, Smith, Trumbull and Morgan Payne began this summer as they prepared for their final high school season.

Curtin will be a junior and Cole Payne a sophomore.

Etzell said, “The reason I play summer baseball is to further my abilities and compete at a high level.” The others echoed those comments and added they wanted to improve their weaknesses.

Morgan Payne said, “My main goal is to get better at the plate with two strikes,” while Trumbull said, “My main focus is my hitting.”

Cole Payne pointed out that by competing in the summer the six are gaining an advantage by “playing more than most of the other (high school) players.”

Morgan Payne said that summer ball provides “more playing time and more at bats, which improves me that much more.”

For Curtin, Trumbull, Smith and the Paynes, playing for South Whidbey, their biggest high school rival, set up an odd dynamic.

Going in, Trumbull said he thought the South Whidbey players would be “arrogant or cocky around us.”

Cole Payne said, “Before I played with them I didn’t know most of them and didn’t like them.”

Those perceptions have changed.

Trumbull said, “We play around like we’ve known each other for years. We also work really well together.”

Now that the Coupeville players know their South Whidbey rivals better, it will only make the rivalry more interesting, they said.

Trumbull said the teams will be “more competitive because we know each other and share inside jokes.”

He added, “It will definitely make the games more fun.”

Morgan Payne said, “It will be more interesting because they know stuff about us and we know things about them.”

Etzell’s path has been different; he elected to play a division up from Junior Legion. The Sox include older (some players completed their freshman college season in the spring) and more talented players.

Etzell said he expects to play college baseball and playing for the Sox helps prepare him for that step.

He likes summer baseball because it is “guaranteed that every single kid wants to be out there.”

He added, “I absolutely love playing for the Sox. It’s a great team which is coached very well. Every single kid on the team wants to win and they’re all fun to be around. I have learned plenty from the older guys, too; they’re great teachers and leaders. It has been a huge step forward in my visions of playing college ball.”

At first he was concerned: “I was worried about how I would do because I knew I would be playing against the best high school players in the state as well as many college baseball players.”

Not a problem. Etzell, the Sox lead off hitter, is batting over .300.

The biggest drawback, he said, was not being able to play with his high school teammates.

He said the six Wolves playing summer baseball will pay dividends next high school season, but “we can’t just stop after summer.”

“The offseason is going to be very important because our potential is out of the building,” he said. “Everyone on the team is going to need to be committed to winning from September to June.”

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