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by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton junior shortstop Casey Cornwell was a first-team, all-Metro selection last year as a sophomore.

Beaverton has two-thirds of the Metro Championship formula down pat.

Its defense possesses athletes with range and intelligence all over the field. The Beavers’ pitching staff goes six or seven deep with quality arms in the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Hitting dependably to back that defense and pitching — the last part of the Metro title equation — has eluded Beaverton as of late. An early season slump at the dish left the Beavers with just seven runs in their final five games of the preseason. The slide has Beaverton searching for answers as it enters Metro action this week, though many of the Beavers are confident the downturn can be inverted in time to obtain their lofty goals of league titles and long playoff runs.

“If we string a couple hits together and get our bats going, we think we can win Metro,” said senior outfielder Colin Lipps. “We believe we have outstanding pitching and defense. Our bats just need to come through, and we can go all the way through Metro, win Metro and go deep in the playoffs. We believe we can do that. We just have to combine the bats with our defense and pitching.”

Beaverton won the opening game of Metro play versus Southridge, 6-2, on April 14, but only scored one over the next two losses to give the Skyhawks the series’ victory

“I know for a fact we’re going to bring it in Metro,” said senior catcher Justin Wakem. “We have Southridge first, and everyone knows it’s the biggest rivalry when we clash. We’re going to want to grind the season out and prove we’re the best. I feel confident that that’s what we’re going to do.”

“It’s really about being the best we can be,” added senior outfielder Sam Eppler. “The sky’s the limit — we just haven’t really taken off yet. We’re looking to do that this coming week.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton senior catcher Justin Wakem is one veteran leader on a young Beaver baseball team looking to make noise in Metro this spring.

Step it up

Entering the spring, Lipps said Beaverton’s bats were expected to be the team’s calling card, the reliable variable to fall back on if times got tough. However, it’s been the stout pitching and sturdy defense that have bolstered the Beavers in the preseason.

Junior shortstop Casey Cornwell is an all-league returner who came on big as a sophomore. Wakem, third baseman Robby Valentine, first baseman Josh Hill and utility man Nolan Lafollette are solid in the infield. Outfielders Sam Noyer, Drew Kimmer and Eppler, among others, have the speed to cut off the gaps and prevent extra bases on the opponents’ behalf.

“Our infield is really our strong suit, and our defense is really good, too,” said Valentine. “We have a great, fast outfield. Our infield fields everything. Our pitchers keep the ball in the field and let us do our work. We just have to step it up on offense.”

Cornwell, Lafollette, Noyer, Valentine, Nolan Imus and Andrew Carter are Beaverton’s main horses on the hill. A versatile group that isn’t tied down to the starting rotation or bullpen, the Beaver pitchers give head coach Derek Nekoba a surplus of hurlers to dial up in Metro play.

“We definitely have the ability to make a run and go far this year,” said Noyer. “But, you have to put the money where the mouth is. Hopefully, our bats can get going, and I’m confident they will. Our defense is there. We just have to get our bats there.”

There are plenty of proven hitters throughout the Beavers’ lineup such as Cornwell and the Hills, all of whom had stellar seasons at the dish last year. Lips, Wakem, Valentine and Noyer have showed they can rake too.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton first baseman Ryan Hill and the Beavers say they have to get the bats going in order to be a contender for a Metro championship.

Now, Beaverton just needs to bust through this two-week-long bugaboo and get back to batting with potency at the dish. Beaverton opens Metro play with a three-game series versus Southridge this week.

“That’s the grind,” said Noyer of the league.”That’s what really matters, and we want to win every game in league. We have to improve with the bats and on the mound, but that’ll come. We have to all get on the same page and keep fighting.”

“If we come out with that fire, with a chip on our shoulder, we could definitely make a run for it,” said Wakem. “We want to put up a fight against every team, every pitcher.”

“We have good things ahead of us, I believe,” added Valentine. “I think this team is going to pull out of this slump, come together and start hitting. It’s going to be a season to watch.”

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