Sisters baseball sets the standard

Preview of the Central Oregon baseball season

By Grant Lucas / The Bulletin / @GrantLucas88

Published Mar 22, 2014 at 12:01AM

Prep baseball, at a glance

A look at the Central Oregon teams competing in baseball this spring:

Class 5A

Bend

Head coach: Bret Bailey (third season)

2013 record: 20-9 overall, 6-3 Intermountain Conference (second); lost in championship of Class 5A state playoffs

Outlook: Last season, the Lava Bears went to the state championship for the first time since 1987 but fell short of the 5A crown. Bend, which has advanced to the semifinals each of the last two years, will be without three all-state players and two additional all-IMC athletes. But with six seniors leading the way, including second-team all-conference infielder Dalton Hurd, the Bears have their eyes set on a return trip to the state playoffs and perhaps their first IMC title since 2009.

Mountain View

Head coach: Casey Powell (first season)

2013 record: 5-17 overall, 1-8 Intermountain Conference (fourth)

Outlook: After 15 years of collegiate coaching, Powell returns to his alma mater as a first-year high school coach. The 1993 Mountain View alum takes over a club that won just two of its last 15 games last season. But with senior catcher Brock Powell and senior outfielder Devin Haney returning, the Cougars are poised to bounce back.

Redmond

Head coach: Mike Steele (first season)

2013 record: 21-7 overall, 7-2 Intermountain Conference (first); lost in semifinals of Class 5A state playoffs

Outlook: The Panthers graduated 12 seniors from last season’s team — including 5A pitcher of the year J.D. Abbas and six other first-team all-IMC players. Only three Panthers return from the 2013 squad in sophomores Derek Brown and Hunter Smith and junior Ben Burroughs. While Redmond boasts a young roster (made up mostly of sophomores), Steele sees a fire in his players that could allow the Panthers to continue their recent success on the diamond.

Summit

Head coach: Alan Embree (first season)

2013 record: 15-12 overall, 4-5 Intermountain Conference (third); lost in Class 5A play-in round

Outlook: Summit is young and inexperienced, but Embree says they have played together at the youth level enough to get to know each other and the Storm’s coaching staff. Senior all-IMC pitcher Tyler Mullen will be sidelined with an injury he suffered during basketball season, but his presence around the team coupled with the return of all-conference players Josh Cherry and Cal Waterman could make the Storm a competitive team in the IMC.

Class 4A

Crook County

Head coach: Frank Martinez (second season)

2013 record: 8-18 overall, 0-3 Special District 1 (second)

Outlook: The Cowboys graduated just four seniors from last year’s squad that finished with the program’s fewest wins since 2010. Crook County’s roster is lined with plenty of youth, but led by senior Dylan Blasius, junior Trevor Slawter and sophomore Chase McCall, the Cowboys look to challenge conference foe Ridgeview for a chance at a state playoff appearance for the first time since 2004.

La Pine

Head coach: Bo DeForest (first season)

2013 record: 7-19 overall, 6-9 Sky-Em League (third); lost in Class 4A play-in round

Outlook: Each of the last three years, the Hawks have improved on their overall record, resulting in La Pine’s first postseason appearance since 2002 last season. Despite a new coach, who replaces Bryn Card, the Hawks are aiming to improve on their third-place finish in the Sky-Em in 2013 and return to the postseason despite graduating nine senior’s from last year’s roster.

Madras

Head coach: Sam McCormick (first season)

2013 record: 13-12 overall, 7-8 Tri-Valley Conference (third); lost in Class 4A play-in round

Outlook: For the third time in as many years, the White Buffaloes have a new head coach. Fortunately for Madras, McCormick was an assistant in 2011 and was the Buffs’ coach this past summer, allowing a familiarity to set in. Madras, which will not field a senior, will be led by sophomore lefty Austin Rauschenburg on the pitching mound, while the offense will revolve around juniors Cody Shepherd, Ethan Short, Parker Dominguez and Alec McDonald, as well as sophomore Bryce Rehwinkel. That depth is what McCormick plans to pay dividends in the long run.

Ridgeview

Head coach: Josh Davis (second season)

2013 record: 13-13 overall, 3-0 Special District 1 (first); lost in Class 4A play-in round

Outlook: Ten of Ridgeview’s 13 players from last season’s squad return for 2014, including six all-IMC players. As much as Davis wants to avoid cliches, the Ravens’ approach is to take it one game and one series at a time. The motto “1-0” helped the Ridgeview football team to a Class 4A state title this past fall. Now, behind junior Collin Runge — an honorable mention all-state catcher last year — and all-IMC senior Mitch Springer, the Ravens are looking to experience similar magic.

Sisters

Head coach: Steve Hodges (eighth season)

2013 record: 26-3 overall, 15-0 Sky-Em League (first); lost in semifinals of Class 4A state playoffs

Outlook: The last three Sky-Em titles have gone to Sisters — and the Outlaws are ready to add another. With the reigning Class 4A player of the year in Joey Morgan teamed up with all-state players Justin Harrer and Jardon Weems — and with the return of first baseman Cody Kreminski — Sisters aims for a return trip to the state playoffs, and perhaps its first trip to the state championship since 2002.

Class 2A/1A

Culver

Head coach: Nick Viggiano (first season)

2013 record: 11-13 overall, 6-10 Special District 2 (fifth)

Outlook: Last season, the Bulldogs posted the program’s most wins since 2008. Now with a solid group of seniors, including middle infielders Joe Daugherty and Adam Knepp, Culver is poised to continue the upward trend — perhaps even challenge the conference’s top teams to earn a spot in the state playoffs for the first time since 2001.

No way Steve Hodges could have predicted his team doing what it did last season.

Even with back-to-back Sky-Em League baseball titles in his pocket, the Sisters High coach believed there was plenty of work to be done with the 2013 Outlaws.

A school-record 26 wins later, Sisters was in the Class 4A state semifinals for the first time since 2008. A 2-1 loss to Henley denied the Outlaws their first trip to the state championship since 2002.

“We just train to get better,” says Hodges, the eighth-year Sisters coach who guided his team to a 26-3 record last season. “To be honest, we don’t talk a lot about records or league championships or state playoff things. We just try to get better, identify goals.”

With major contributors returning from last season, the Outlaws are poised for a fourth straight Sky-Em title — and perhaps a deeper run in the Class 4A state playoffs.

“I have really high expectations for this team,” says senior Joey Morgan, the reigning 4A player of the year. “Being a senior and seeing all the teams that have come through here, I think this team really matches all their intensity. You don’t really want to compare too much, but I really think this team has a good shot at going just as far, if not farther, as teams in the past.”

Led by Morgan — Sisters’ ace, standout catcher and effective corner infielder who has committed to Oregon — the Outlaws enter this season having swept their 15-game conference schedule each of the past two years. They are 44-1 in league play dating back to 2011 and have increased their win total each of the past three seasons, from 23 in 2011 to 26 a year ago.

“Considering this is going to be my junior year ... and my record in league is 30-0 — not a lot of high school players get to have that record,” says Justin Harrer, a returning all-state infielder and all-league pitcher for the Outlaws. “We try not to concern ourselves with what other schools are saying about us or what coaches and players are saying. But we definitely do know that with a record like that, we’re the team to beat.”

Sisters returns all three of its top pitchers (Morgan, Harrer and senior Jardon Weems) from last year’s squad that guided the Outlaws to a program-record 24-game winning streak and allowed just 79 runs all season. Add in second-team all-conference outfielder Ben Larson and the Outlaws have a stable of high-caliber talent.

“Any time you put that type of experience on the field, and you have the younger players watch those guys perform each day, it’s obviously great to have that in your program,” Hodges says. “That gives them a lot of confidence too, knowing that those guys are on their team and wearing the same uniforms. It’s pretty hard to replace that type of experience.”

The question mark, Hodges says, lies with freshmen who will be stepping into key roles vacated by graduated seniors. But early on, those newcomers have shown their worth — including Ryan Funk, who will catch when Morgan pitches and play the field when Morgan goes behind the plate.

“(The freshmen) have played a lot of baseball,” Hodges says. “Now they just have to adapt to the varsity level and the speed of the game. Let things come as they come and try not to put too much pressure on them and keep coaching.”

Sisters has been in this situation before. Joey Morgan is a four-year starter. Justin Harrer cracked the starting lineup as a freshman two years ago. That, Hodges says, is a huge asset.

“We’ve got two guys on this team that started when they were freshmen, so they understand that role,” the Sisters coach says. “That’s good, because they can help mentor those young guys because they did it themselves.”

Also valuable is the championship mindset that transitions from the soccer field to the diamond.

Harrer, like several of his baseball teammates, was a part of the Outlaws’ first boys soccer state title team this past fall. They have tasted a championship. They remember the sensation of winning the final game of the season. And what Harrer felt at the beginning of the soccer season is similar to what he feels now.

“That feeling isn’t saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to win state this year,’” Harrer clarifies. “It’s more, ‘Alright. We’ve got work to do. We’ve got to improve. We’ve got to hone our skills and figure out how to play as a team.’ ... The feeling around here is not that we’re playing to win a state title. We’re playing for one game at a time. We’re playing to win that one game.”

The bar has been set, and it is a lofty height. Sisters heads into the season with a fourth straight Sky-Em championship in sight. That is Step 1 in the Outlaws’ quest to become the kings of Class 4A.

“We want to defend our league title. That’s our first goal,” Hodges says. “Then we just want to be a team that is competitive at the end of the season. We want to look back and say we progressed as a team and put ourselves in a position to compete. I just want this team to realize its fullest potential, and that’s how we approach it.”

“It is a very solid reputation here,” Harrer adds. “It’s something that definitely doesn’t happen a lot. You want to maintain that and keep that tradition going.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com.