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New coach hopes to lead Pacers resurgence

by: Cliff Newell, 
New Lakeridge baseball coach Colin Griffin hopes that this year will mark the beginning of a turn-around for the Pacers’ program. Griffin has already installed new grass and revamped the team’s hitting barn.

Lakeridge High School baseball has nowhere to go but up. The school thinks new coach Colin Griffin is the man to do it.

Coming off a 1-26 season in 2007, the Pacers needed a coach who isn't afraid of a challenge. Griffin qualifies.

'I wasn't too sure about coming to a high school,' Griffin said. 'I liked what I was doing on the collegiate level in baseball (at Willamette University).

'But Ian Lamont (Lakeridge athletic director) called me up. I talked to Ian and the other administrators about bringing the program back. The more I talked to them, the more it seemed like a good opportunity.'

This is not the first time Griffin has faced a daunting task with a baseball team. A few years ago he took a managing position in the German professional baseball league, the Bundesliga. Having never made the playoffs, the club's tradition was quite underwhelming.

'I was the only coach, I was the third youngest person on the team, and I spoke no German,' Griffin said.

Still, Griffin proceeded to lead the team to its best season ever and its first playoff trip ever.

'Something clicked on that team,' Griffin said. 'The guys trusted me.'

Now, Griffin is hoping to have similar results in Lakeridge with a 15-member team dominated by 10 seniors.

Dylan Summers will anchor the team at catcher. He is a big, physical player who is a good leader behind the plate and handles the bat really well.

Brady Burdick and Henry Corelle are newcomers to the pitching mound, but Griffin says they are picking up things very well.

Burdick will also play shortstop, while Corelle will play third base and rev up the offense with his spray-hitting to all fields.

Joe Kloucek is just coming off shoulder surgery, but he is still expected to help the club at designated hitter.

'Joe has great speed,' Griffin said. 'He's capable of turning a walk into a triple.'

A trio of talented juniors will be good everyday players and can play a wide variety of positions for the Pacers. They are Eric Hillier, Miles Lewis and Danny Kloucek.

'Our guys are excited,' Griffin said. 'They've been working out at captains' practices (run by seniors) since November.

'I think our strengths will be speed and defense. We won't be afraid to put the ball over the plate and let our defense make the plays.'

The Pacers will be attempting to make a turnaround in the Three Rivers League, which is probably the toughest baseball conference in Oregon - 'by far.' West Linn, Clackamas and Lake Oswego are all powerhouse teams.

But there was a time not too long ago when Lakeridge was the best team of all, a time when it won state championships under the great coach Dave Gasser.

'When I played at Jesuit, Lakeridge was the one team you didn't want to play,' Griffin said. 'Their fans were the best and they would heckle you. It was a great environment. It felt like college baseball.'

Ever since he arrived on the scene, Griffin has been working to change the baseball environment at Lakeridge.

'To become a success again you need to get the town excited and get the support back,' he said. 'You need to provide tangible evidence that things are changing.'

Working with Signature Landscape last summer, Griffin had the entire infield ripped out, and now 'we could have the best natural turf surface around.'

He also had the hitting barn gutted and installed AstroTurf acquired from Indiana University.

Plus, the Pacers will be wearing new uniforms this season.

A lot has already been done, but Griffin says a lot more has to be done before happy days are here again for Lakeridge High School baseball.

'We won't turn the program around in one game, half a season, one season or two seasons,' he said. 'But we are going to get there.'

After all, Griffin has proven he can speak the language of winning.

Lakeridge won its first game of the new season with a 7-6 victory over Crook County and then nearly toppled Sunset on Tuesday, falling in a pitchers' dual 3-2.