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West Springfield Begins Life Without Wahl, Morgan

Spartans open season as defending state champions.

Bobby Wahl and Charlie Morgan carried the West Springfield baseball team to a state championship in 2010, the program’s first since 1998.

Wahl and his 90-plus mph fastball mowed down opposing hitters. The right-hander pitched in each of the Spartans’ final seven games, doing whatever necessary to help West Springfield win.

Morgan was a power-hitting force from the left side. He set school records for batting average (.551), hits (49), home runs (11), slugging percentage (1.034) and RBIs (40) during the 2010 campaign, including a clutch three-run homer with the Spartans facing a 1-0 deficit late in the state semifinals against Western Branch.

Wahl could also handle the bat, hitting better than .400 for his career. Morgan was also a talented pitcher, allowing no earned runs in 6 2/3 innings in the semifinal matchup with Western Branch. Each possessed the talent to lead a program to greatness.

And now they’re gone.

Wahl and Morgan went on to play Division I baseball: Wahl a pitcher at Ole Miss and Morgan a designated hitter at Wake Forest. Back at West Springfield, the Spartans enter the 2011 season with talent, but it will be hard to live up to the success of last year’s team. However, head coach John James offers a solution to dealing with potentially overwhelming expectations.

Don’t compare the two teams.

"This is a different team," James said. "We lost some guys but we gained some guys. They need to establish their own identity and establish their own legacy and they’re going to go out and do that. They’re going to work to do that and they can’t try to live up to anything else."

So far, so good for the Spartans, who opened the season with victories in their first two games. West Springfield defeated Fairfax, 4-3, on March 18 before thumping Robinson, 14-2, in five innings on March 19. Against Robinson, senior infielder Trevor Snook finished 3 for 3 with seven RBIs, including a three-run double in the first inning.

"Trevor is a three-year starter," James said. "He’s developed every year. He’s taken his game a little higher, he’s improved and he’s an important piece of what we do."

Snook said he is one of several Spartans who need to step up and fill the void left by Wahl and Morgan.

"Ever since last season, that was one of my goals," Snook said. "Some of us have to step up and fill those voids and I feel like we have the guys to do that. We’re pretty confident."

James said he expects seniors Aaron Self (infield), Garrett Wooddell (infield/outfield) and David Pyon (catcher) will play key roles for the Spartans.

On the mound, James said there is not a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. Instead, he will start whoever he thinks gives the Spartans the best chance of winning that particular game. Seniors Michael Simko, JT Williamson, Wes Stonelake and Snook, and juniors Connor Tagg and Tyler Tobin could be impact pitchers.

"We have one pitching staff," James said, "and we have confidence in all of them."

West Springfield will travel to face Lake Braddock on March 25, at 6:30 p.m. The Spartans’ first home game is March 29 against Woodson in a rematch of last season’s Northern Region championship game.

James said the Spartans need to focus on this season and not think about last year’s state championship or the pressure that comes with it.

"Don’t even talk about it," he said. "What’s done is done. That’s in the past."

That’s easier said than done, however, as opponents will likely be excited to get their chance and knocking off the defending champion.

"We definitely know we’ve got a target on our back, so we can’t slack at all," Snook said. "We’ve got to come out there with our A game every time because we know people are coming for us with their A game, as well. There are no let-ups. …

"We definitely get the people asking us in school, ‘How are you going to be this year? Can you guys repeat?’ We just tell them we’re out here working hard. Down the road, that’s going to be our goal. We’ve just got to work each day to get closer and closer [and climb] each rung of the ladder."