Baseball squads hope to build on lessons learned in non-league matchups | Sports

By now, if the weather has permitted, the Dallas and Central baseball teams are into their league seasons. Or else they will be once they get a dry-field day.

And West Salem will launch its league season this weekend if it’s not overly wet.

All the past – meaning all the non-league games – has been prelude to the league races that will determine most of the state playoff berths and decide bragging rights in rivalries.

Along the way, schedules might be rewritten to some extent because of rain, but the games are likely to come on a regular and familiar basis.

With all that said – here’s a rundown of how each of the three local teams looked heading into this week.

The Dragons had a bit of a wild final week of non-league action.

First, they lost 22-1 at home to another Class 5A team, Scappoose, which is on the rise.

Then Dallas battled 6A Nelson before coming up short 7-4 at Dallas.

Finally, on Friday and also at home, the Dragons took care of Benson 13-0, winning one of those “should-win” games against a winless Tech program that has struggled in recent years and fell to 0-6 this season with the losses by an average of 18.5 runs.

So Dallas entered this week with a 4-5 record and facing a two-game, Mid-Willamette Conference opening series versus West Albany. The second game is scheduled for Wednesday at West Albany (again, all subject to change in early Oregon spring).

It’s a challenging first MWC week for the Dragons. Next up for them is Silverton, with a Friday game at Dallas and a visit to the Foxes on April 18.

After that, the Dragons will take on Corvallis.

Silverton and Corvallis were ranked No. 5 and No. 1, respectively, in the final 5A coaches poll of March.

The Panthers are near the middle of the Oregon School Activities Association rankings after wrapping up their early non-league season with a 5-4 record and 4-0 road victory over a young 6A team, McDaniel.

Although the Panthers have been up and down, the players were eager to start playing MWC games and hopefully beat some opponents that are closer to home.

“Since our first game (a 7-1 non-league loss to Silverton), we’ve improved and our talents have started to show,” senior Seth White said. “Next time we play Silverton, we’ll be ready.”

First, though, Central plays North Salem, Corvallis, Crescent Valley, Dallas, Lebanon, West Albany and South Albany, two games apiece in the MWC. All of those games figure to have some intrigue as well as something tangible on the line.

“It’s a little more personal when we play in our own district,” White said.

Wednesday’s scheduled game is at home against North Salem. On Friday, Corvallis comes to town. On Monday, Central is booked for a road game at Corvallis.

McDaniel was the Panthers’ only game last week, and Central won despite managing only two hits (RBI singles by White and junior Will Merritt). The Mountain Lions made five errors at Walker Stadium in Portland, and the Central pitching crew of senior Malachi McCormick, White and Merritt held them scoreless on a pair of singles.

McCormick allowed one hit and one walk in five innings, with five strikeouts, before the Panthers went to the bullpen.

“I felt good,” McCormick said. “The coaches preached mentality, and I was able to find my mentality – don’t overthink, don’t force anything. Let your body do the work. I really had my legs going today.”

McCormick was quick to say that what the Panthers need to take their game to another level is to “start putting hits together. Start with energy and grow more energy throughout the game.”

The time is now for that, he said, because league play “is going to be competitive.”

The Panthers left seven runners on base versus McDaniel and had one man thrown out trying to score on a fly out to center field.

“We could have done better,” Merritt said. “We’ve got to adjust more on pitchers that throw hard versus soft pitchers that are barely getting the ball over the plate.

“But we’re so ready and excited to get the league season going.”

Coach Tom Roberts was excited to see McCormick “pitching the way he can, throwing low in the (strike) zone and having his off-speed stuff working.”

Roberts said Central’s starting pitching should be “solid” and the team has about seven arms it can call on, if needed, for pitching depth.

The MWC will be good from top to bottom, so “ready or not, it’s starting,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of good growth in our team, and it’ll be good to play the teams we’re used to playing.”

The Titans are scheduled to kick off their Mountain Valley Conference season on Saturday with two games at home against Bend. The first pitch is set for noon.

West Salem was 3-8 going into its final non-league game (Tuesday at home against Redmond).

Last week, the Titans “put it all together,” in the words of coach Taylor Blair and beat visiting Sheldon 4-3 in eight innings, then didn’t perform so well at Silverton and lost 9-6.

“We had the pitching, defense and hitting against Sheldon, which is a good team,” Blair said. “Against Silverton, we just didn’t do any of the little things correctly. It was kind of the opposite. Our bunt defense wasn’t good. We balked and didn’t cover bags. We were up 6-5 in the sixth inning and lost. Silverton capitalized on our mistakes.

“We’re better than them, and if we do the little things right, we win that game, no problem. So there’s a lesson in it – you won a game, but you can’t just show up for the next one and expect to do it again.”

The victory over Sheldon came on a sacrifice fly by sophomore Matthew Luke. It scored freshman Carter Howard.

The pitching star was senior Brody McMullen (13 strikesouts in seven innings). Trent Vanwinckel, a junior, worked a scoreless eighth and got the win.

Seniors Jeremiah Pinkerton and Colin Kronenberg were among those who contributed offensively. Pinkerton had a double and triple among his three hits. Kronenberg walked three times and scored twice.

At Silverton, McMullen and Luke each had two hits, and junior Tyler Rock had a double and two RBIs.

Through last week, league foes Summit, Mountain View and Sprague were Nos. 2, 5 and 12 in the OSAA 6A rankings.

The top three finishers in the seven-team MVC will earn automatic spots in the state playoffs. State rankings will determine 11 other playoff teams. West Salem, which was 42nd going into this week, will need to play well in its 12 league games to make it to the postseason, either with a top-three finish or a good climb in the rankings.

“We’re going to go after certain teams,” Blair said. “Bend is one of them. We have to beat certain people in order to get in.”


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