Metro League Baseball: West Seattle makes pitch

Out all season with a serious knee injury as a junior, Jay Taylor couldn't bear to watch his West Seattle High School teammates play baseball.

It was too painful.

Taylor, restored to good health as a senior, couldn't feel much better this season as the Wildcats (12-0) have rolled to the school's best overall start. A big reason for their success is the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Taylor, who already has signed with NAIA power Lewis-Clark State College of Lewiston, Idaho.

"It's a great way to be going out at West Seattle," said Taylor (4-0), who throws a low-90s fastball, a curveball and a changeup. "It was tough to go and watch last year. I really didn't go to games."

The Wildcats, who lead the Metro League's Sound Division at 8-0, feature a deep pitching staff and solid defense. West Seattle is making a pitch to reach state for the first time since 2003 and only the second time in 14 years.

The school last won a Metro championship in 1993, capping a streak of four in row. The Wildcats shared the title that year with O'Dea.

"I don't think we've ever been 12-0 overall to start a season," said Velko Vitalich, in his 20th year as the school's coach. "This is probably the best start ever. This team has the potential to be the best team I've had here.

"This is probably the best pitching staff I've coached here, too."

Taylor, a right-hander, leads the way with a 0.91 earned-run average, 25 strikeouts and three walks in 23 innings.

Taylor feels fortunate to be playing again after driving his 1989 Honda CRX into a telephone pole on the night of Dec. 4, 2004 along West Marginal Way near the West Seattle Bridge.

He shredded ligaments in his left knee in the collision. The injury required surgery and doctors advised Taylor just to pitch instead of also playing shortstop, as he did before the accident.

"Basically, my knee popped out of its socket," said Taylor, who also suffered head injuries.

Taylor still has a chance to be the second West Seattle player coached by Vitalich to be selected in the June amateur draft. Outfielder Romell Mitchell, a 1997 graduate, was a late-round pick.

Taylor isn't the only pitcher doing his job for the Wildcats. The team ERA is 1.96.

"The key is we haven't walked a lot of guys and we've played really good defense," said Vitalich.

Junior Zach Varce is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA. Juniors Jesse Slader (3-0) and Derek Benham (six saves, 1.02 ERA) have also sparkled.

Third baseman Tyler Cherin is hitting .500 with a .698 on-base percentage. Center fielder Tyler Hutchison has four home runs and an .853 slugging percentage. Sophomore leadoff hitter Kyle Hesse hits .400 and Taylor is batting .409.

West Seattle faces Bainbridge Monday at 3:30 p.m. at Hiawatha Playfield. The Wildcats are chasing the school's longest winning streak of 17 games — all Metro League contests in 1991.

"We're off to a great start, but we're a long ways from undefeated," Vitalich said. "We've still got a lot of tough games."