TRL BASEBALL: Clackamas coach John Arntson expects a three-team dogfight

This spring's Three Rivers League baseball title chase is likely to be a dogfight.

West Linn, Lake Oswego and Clackamas are all ranked in the top 10 in the state and they are expected to battle one another for the title.

But if last week's first-round league games are any indication, the league is tough from top to bottom.

Oregon City upset Clackamas in a 3-2 barnburner last Friday, the Lakers had their hands full in dropping Milwaukie in two close games - 5-4 and 3-1, and West Linn eked out a 4-3 win at Putnam.

'I think it's going to be a close race [for the title],' said Clackamas coach John Arntson. 'But if I had to pick I'd say West Linn's the favorite. They've got seven of nine starters back and they've been to the state semifinals the last three years.'

Lake Oswego has a number of players return, including Jared VanHoon, the two-time 'TRL Pitcher of the Year.' The Lakers lost a close game to 2007 state champion North Medford in last year's second round.

The Clackamas Cavaliers have eight players with starting experience returning, including their top pitcher from last year, Nick Struck, a first-team all-league selection.

The Cavaliers had a tremendously successful run last summer, going 30-10, winning their league, and going 5-0 in playoffs to earn a spot in the AAA American Legion State Tournament, where they lost in the second round to state finalist Southridge.

Seniors Struck (pitcher/shortstop), Corey Davis (catcher/pitcher), Ryan Cook (outfield) and Jake Nolte (pitcher/first base), and junior Matt Nylen (third base) return to lead the charge for the Cavaliers. All of them received all-league honors a year ago.

Arntson said that Davis and sophomore Ben Wetzler round out his starting pitching rotation, with Nolte as a 'very capable' closer.

Also returning with starting experience are seniors Alex Pearson (outfield), John Walters (outfield) and Kyle Benuelos (second base).

Arntson said he was a little disappointed in his Cavaliers' early-season play, which included a 9-0 win over Barlow, a 10-2 win over Oregon City, a 3-2 loss to Oregon City and a 3-2 loss to Jesuit.

'We need to do a better job of executing at the plate, like we did last summer,' he said.

The Cavaliers left runners stranded at first and third in the final inning of their loss to Oregon City.

Davis pitched the first five innings of the loss, striking out five, while giving up two hits and no runs.

Earlier last week, the Cavaliers pounded Oregon City 10-2, with Davis, Struck and Walters all hitting home runs in a nine-hit attack.

The Cavaliers put the Pioneers away in the second inning, when they scored seven runs on two hit batsmen, two walks, a run-scoring single by Benuelos, a run-scoring sacrifice fly by Pearson, a three-run home run by Davis and a solo shot by Struck.

Struck fanned seven and scattered four hits in five innings.

Wetzler faced three batters and retired all three on strikes. Nolte made it three-up and three-down in an inning of relief.

The Cavaliers (2-2, 1-1) return to league play next week, when they play Milwaukie (1-3, 0-2) in a three-game series. They have home games with the Mustangs on Monday and Friday, and they travel to Milwaukie on Wednesday.

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