Sitting on the bleachers behind the backstop of the Gig Harbor High baseball field before practice on a sunny Friday afternoon, junior Michael Toglia lit up when he thought about what this year’s group can accomplish.
"We have a lot of talent this year," Toglia said. "I think this is going to be our best chance at winning a state title in a long time."
The Tides have lofty expectations, and Toglia — who enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign as a pitcher and center fielder, earning first-team all Narrows 4A honors — should be an integral part of the team’s aspirations this season.
Gig Harbor coach Pete Jansen, going into his 26th year at the helm of the program, offered high praise for the junior.
"He’s a smart student, strong with his academics and an outstanding athlete," Jansen said. "He’s a fierce competitor. He’s valuable as a pitcher, but also played center field. He had two or three game-saving catches in the outfield last year. He’s a clutch hitter. If he continues to improve, he has a really good opportunity to get some playing time at the D-I level."
That’s Toglia’s goal, anyway. In September, he committed to play baseball for the Washington State Cougars.
"It’s a great school," Toglia said. "You kind of feel like you get the college experience there. They were the first to offer; I felt secure with them."
The Tides’ pitching staff is anchored by lefty ace Matthew Henckel, who is committed to the University of Oregon. Senior first baseman Grant Sutton is committed to the University of Portland. Junior Jon Burghardt brings a power bat to the lineup. Most of the players from last year’s team, which made it to the Class 4A state tournament, are back.
"We’re really looking forward to the season," Jansen said. "Last year, we were really successful. We didn’t have a lot of offense. We had great pitching, defense and team chemistry last year. Overall as a team, our offense was average. That just shows you, with great pitching and defense, you can win games."
With the team’s best hitters back and some new ones in the fold, Jansen is confident the bats will surge this year.
"This year, our pitching is stronger, our defense is equal to the great defense we had last year and our offense this year is much more potent," Jansen said. "On paper, things look promising. But that’s on paper — you know how that goes."
Jansen said he doesn’t talk much about winning the state titles, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a buzz on the practice field.
"The players talk about it a lot," Jansen said. "There are a lot of good teams in Washington. There’s a lot of talent. Everything has to fall in place to win a state championship. There’s even a little bit of luck involved. There are 16 teams in state tourney — anyone could beat another team."
The Tides open their schedule at home on Friday against Olympic at 4 p.m.