Baseball team hopes to return to state tournament

The Westside baseball team is ready to swing for the fences this season. The Warriors are coming off a 18-16 record and a state tournament appearance in 2022. Westside returns several upperclassmen, so they hope to make another run to state. The experience and leadership is what the Warriors believe will get them over the hump. 

The Warriors have four seniors committed to play college baseball. Pitchers Max Coughlin and Jackson Gutta, infielder Ty Chullino and catcher Michael Zimmerman will play at the next level. The Warriors return six pitchers with an earned run average of 4.16 or lower. The strong suit of this year’s team will be pitching, but the Warriors won’t overlook the hitting this season. Last year’s team had no hitter average under .231 (21 at bats minimum). Just after tryouts, Coughlin likes where the team is at in all aspects of the game. 

“We’ve had tryouts and about a week of practice, and our hitters are doing really good, our pitchers have been doing really well,” Coughlin said. “I like where we’re at and I think on all phases of the game fielding, hitting and pitching we’re pretty loaded right now.”

The Warriors qualified for the state tournament last year, receiving a wildcard spot. The team believes winning districts is their way in this year, as relying on a wildcard bid is never safe. The state tournament has eight teams, the six district winners and two teams receiving a wildcard spot. Winning the district title and making a run in state is exactly what the Warriors hope to do. One of the Warriors starting pitchers, Gutta, reflects on what this season’s goals are. 

“Districts is absolutely a goal to win and probably the most vital thing we can do because we can’t just rely on wild card points and I think that we’re gonna have to win districts this year if we want to make it,” Gutta said. “And we made it last year and I think there’s no reason we shouldn’t have the goal of winning state this year. 

The leadership and experience is no reason to overlook the talent of the Warriors roster. With four players committed to play in college it’s something to pay attention to. Northeast Community College commit Max Coughlin, had 30 strikeouts in 15 appearances and 35.1 innings pitched with a record of 3-0. Jackson Gutta is a pitcher committed to Grinnell College. He had a 3.97 ERA in 12.1 innings with ten strikeouts.

Simpson College commit Ty Chullino is an infielder, who hit .333 in the batter’s box. He had 15 hits with 9 runs driven in and was a threat with his speed out on the bases with 14 stolen bases. Michael Zimmerman has signed his letter of intent to play at the University of Sioux Falls. Zimmerman is known for his catcher ability, only having three errors last season. He also had 12 hits and 10 runs batted in. Head coach Otis Seals explains what it means to have the college commits on the roster. 

“Each of the guys who plan on playing college ball all play different positions and so I’m hoping that they are leaders in their position groups,” Seals said. “One of the things we talked about is a leadership lesson we took from the All Blacks [Rugby team], which was leaving the jersey in a better place and so hopefully they and the other seniors are able to each year make Westside baseball just a little bit better for the next group that comes through.”

Using the state tournament appearance is something the Warriors believe they can use to their advantage. The experience and knowledge they gained from competing at the state level is something not many teams can use to their advantage the next season. Chullino believes the state tournament game was possibly the biggest game of their lives. 

“I think learning to be able to play in big games, because those are the biggest games we will ever play in most of our lives,” Chullino said. “So I think stepping up in the big games and other tournaments that state has prepared us for.” 

The season opener for the Warriors will be on Thursday, March 16. The Warriors will be at home facing off against the Millard North Mustangs.