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Pioneers could be spoilers in TRL baseball

Coach says the senior-dominated Pioneers 'hate to lose'

With a number of seniors in their varsity lineup, the Oregon City Pioneers are hopeful that they'll emerge with a Three Rivers League baseball playoff spot in 2008.

Oregon City coach J.J. Winkle says he sees Clackamas, West Linn and Lake Oswego as the TRL's top teams, not necessarily in that order.

The Pioneers got a big boost in confidence last Friday when they won a 3-2 nailbiter over the Cavaliers.

'This puts us in a hole,' said Clackamas coach John Arntson. 'We expected to battle West Linn and Lake Oswego and sweep everybody else.'

'I'm not really surprised [we beat Clackamas],' said Winkle. 'We've got eight or nine seniors on the team that played with me when they were sophomores. They're good athletes, they like to practice, and they hate to lose.'

Heading up the Pioneer starting lineup are four seniors who saw starting action a year ago: Rayce Belmont (outfield), Brad Tinsley (pitcher/outfield), Ryan Zornado (second base) and Leif Gambee (outfield).

Belmont was a first-team all-league selection as a junior. Tinsley and Zornado were honorable mention all-league selections on a Pioneer team that finished with a .500 record and placed fifth in league, a game shy of making the playoffs.

Winkle says he expects Tinsley, Gambee and junior Ryan Huntting to do the Lions' share of Oregon City's pitching.

Belmont, Gambee, Tinsley and sophomore Thomas Coyle will anchor the outfield.

Zornado, Huntting, seniors Andrew Papworth (first) and Ryan Martin (infield), junior Alex Gay (third base) and sophomore Jordan Nelson (third base) are Winkle's top prospects in the infield. Huntting and Martin will split time at shortstop, with Martin taking over when Huntting is on the mound.

The Pioneers played tough at crunch time to pull out the 3-2 win over Clackamas last Friday.

Trailing 1-0, Oregon City scored two runs in the top of the sixth and one more in the top of the seventh to rally to the victory.

And they came through with some spectacular defensive plays down the stretch.

Gambee made a basket catch in deep right-center field for the first out of the seventh. With runners on second and third, Tinsley caught a fly ball against the fence in left field for a second out.

And with runners at first and third, Martin made a superb play at shortstop to end the game.

'It was unbelievable,' said Winkle. 'It was a major league play. Ryan went to his right to get a short ground ball and back-handed the ball to first base all in one motion. It was a bang-bang play.'

Martin and Rayce Belmont led the Pioneers at the plate, each with a pair of hits and a RBI.

The Pioneers used timely hitting to score their late-game runs. In the sixth, Martin followed up a double by Gambee with a two-bagger to drive in one run, and Belmont hit a two-out single to left to bring around the second tally.

With two down in the seventh, Martin hammered an infield single off the glove of Clackamas' pitcher to plate the game-winner.

Tinsley and Huntting pitched for the Pioneers, combining for three strikeouts, while yielding seven hits.

The win avenged a 10-2 loss to Clackamas earlier in the week.

'After [the first loss] our kids could have easily rolled over,' said Winkle. 'But they came out focused on Friday. We got excellent pitching from Tinsley and Huntting, played some spectacular defense, got some timely hitting and earned the split.'

The Pioneers (3-1, 1-1) return to league play next week with a three-game series with Lakeridge (5-1, 0-0). They are at Lakeridge on Monday and Friday, and they entertain the Pacers at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.