RiverHawks ready to swoop down on new season - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Spokane RiverHawks

RiverHawks ready to swoop down on new season

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(Photos: SpokaneRiverHawks) (Photos: SpokaneRiverHawks)

by Erin Schnitger
Spokane RiverHawks

The Friday, June 5th 2009 marks Opening Day for the 2009 Spokane RiverHawks Baseball Season.  Players from colleges all over the nation are flying into Spokane Washington to spend their summer playing ball in a wood bat league centered in the Pacific Northwest. 

In their third season as a member of the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League (WCCBL), the RiverHawks are one of the eight teams competing this season.  The league is divided into East and West Divisions; the RiverHawks reside in the East along with the Wenatchee AppleSox, Kelowna Falcons, and Moses Lake Pirates.  The West is made up of the Corvallis Knights, Bend Elks, Kitsap BlueJackets, and the Bellingham Bells. 

In their 2008 season, the RiverHawks finished third in the East with a 20-21 record overall.  They hope to finish higher this season, gather value game experience and get a few strong wins under their belt.  The coaching staff all agrees that the main goal of the season is to win games, but more importantly improve the overall skill level of their players.  The goal of summer ball teams like the RiverHawks is to focus on the athlete's weakness in their game and directly address them through personal attention and direction from the coaching staff.

Many players decide to forgo the normal college summer and join a summer wood bat team to get a leg up on their competition for their upcoming college fall seasons and earn their spot as a starter. 

Joining Head Coach Barry Matthews this season are assistant coaches Brian Munhall and Bryan Winston.  All three coaches this season finished up their college careers with Gonzaga University here in Spokane.  Matthews and Munhall were actually teammates.  Brian Munhall went on to spend 7 years playing professional baseball, reaching as high as AAA.  Bryan Winston graduated from Gonzaga in 2008 and spent the 2009 season as an assistant coach for the Spokane Falls Community College Sasquatch, alongside Matthews. 

Munhall with take a defensive focus with the team specializing in catchers, his former position.  As a catcher, Munhall says you are automatically in a leader ship role.  He plans on giving catchers free reign to call pitches, but he wants them to be able to explain their plans, defend every pitch they call, and understand why the situation merits that decision. 

"You look out at the field at eight guys, and you have eight guys looking back at your for guidance," Munhall said. 

Winston will use his past experience as a third baseman to assist with the infield this season. He will also coach first base and help defensively where needed. 

The upcoming season is shaping up to be exciting and fast paced for the RiverHawks with new players, new coaching staff, and the season starting nearly two weeks earlier than last year.  Many teams are facing problems with players arriving in time for their first games. 

The RiverHawks coaching staff has mixed feelings about the new start date. "I don't know if it is worth it for the league, it is more stressful and we don't know yet who's going to be here and who's not," said Head Coach Barry Matthews.  Matthews also said that this will benefit the high school players coming into the program because they will get more reps in while waiting for the older players to arrive. 

"I can't draw any conclusions on anyone" Assistant Coach Brian Munhall said "having only 3 practices is a challenge, the players will barley have time to learn signs, situations, and bunting work."

Assistant Coach Bryan Winston likes the new start date because the transition period from college ball to summer ball is much shorter.  A long layoff can end up being a disadvantage for the players and now the game will remain fresh in their minds.

"They will get to know each other better as they play; as opposed to just hanging out at practice" Winston said "you get to know each other in a hurry when you play together."

Matthews has his eye on four stand-out players to be strong additions to the RiverHawks lineup.   From the University of Kansas, right-handed pitcher Cameron Selik, and outfielder Jason Brunansky, Andy Hunter, a right-handed pitcher from Gonzaga University , and Nik Balog, a first baseman from the University of San Francisco. 

"Nik wasn't even supposed to play this season," Matthews said "and he posted a .330 batting average for his team."

Mike Richard is expected to take a leadership role for the RiverHawks this season, especially among the pitching staff. He had a strong season for Spokane Falls Community College and is expected to be a reliable starter for the RiverHawks.  Richard went 5-3 with 11 starts and 3 saves and 65 strikeouts.  He posted a 2.48 ERA in 61 innings of work, and held opponents to hit only a .180 of him this season. 

"He knows the focus is different than school ball" Matthews said "he was an over achiever in Junior College and has experience in the league."  "Guys will be willing to listen to him, and he will absolutely be a leader among pitchers."  

But as far as an everyday leader, that will emerge as the season continues and we can see player interaction and who steps up on the team, said Winston. 

Leadership will play a key role within each team this season as the league is bringing in more talent players from larger programs around the country.

"The league is getting better talent wise," Matthews said "It is becoming a tighter league, with little difference between first place and fourth."

Matthews said his goal for the season is simple, to win the division.  As a personal goal he wants to learn and grow as a head coach, to bestow as much knowledge as he can upon these players, and make the season enjoyable. 

"I want for when the guys leave in the summer, they don't want to play for anyone else but the RiverHawks" Matthews said. 

Opening day for the RiverHawks is Friday June 5, 2009 against the Kelowna Falcons who finished second in the East last year, right about the Hawks.  First pitch will be at 6:35 at Avista Stadium.  The RiverHawks will continue the three game series against the Falcons on Saturday and Sunday night. 

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