But they are probably a year away
MILWAUKIE - From early indications, the turnaround in Milwaukie High School's baseball program is well underway.
A year ago the Mustangs went 4-14 in league and 7-14 overall, experiencing their best season since 1999.
Seven starters graduated from that team. But the Mustangs appear primed to take another step forward, as they've reloaded with a group of athletes who work hard and play together.
Last week the Mustangs faced Lake Oswego senior Jared VanHoon, the two-time Three Rivers League 'pitcher of the year,' for seven full innings and took the Lakers down to the wire in a tough 5-4 loss.
'We hit the two-time pitcher of the year, and we hit him hard,' said Milwaukie coach Brian Duhrkoop. 'After the game, their coach, Jake Anders, paid us a huge compliment. He said it's the best he's ever seen a team from Milwaukie play. The kids played hard. They battled to the end.'
The Mustangs rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh to knot the score at 4-4. It took a walk-off home run by senior Moto Asai in the bottom of the seventh for the Lakers to salvage the win.
The Mustangs only struck out five times in the game, and they reached VanHoon for no fewer than 11 hits.
'I told the kids, 'You're going up there swinging the bats; the only decision to make is not to swing,'' said Duhrkoop. 'They hit the ball and they hit the ball hard.'
Adam Frank got things started for the Mustangs in the seventh, when he reached as a hit batsman.
Nick Colaco reached on an infield single, and the floodgates opened.
Jet Townsend followed with a run-scoring single; Zack Daugherty walked; and Taylor Davis blasted a three-run double to the warning track in left-center.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, Davis attempted to advance to third base on the throw in and was tagged out, ending the threat.
Nine different Milwaukie players made contact for hits. Davis went 2-for-3, with two doubles; Travis Anders also went 2-for-3.
Milwaukie pitchers Travis West and Colaco combined for four strikeouts, while yielding nine hits, three walks and only two earned runs.
'The kids competed,' said Duhrkoop. 'Colaco left one ball up in the zone. One pitch. That was the difference.'
Although the Mustangs graduated seven senior starters, including ace pitcher Jacob Waker, Duhrkoop returns six players who saw varsity action a year ago.
Davis (third base) and Anders (centerfield) proved themselves last year as sophomores, both of them garnering all-league recognition.
Also returning are seniors Brandon Miller (outfield), Daugherty (first base/pitcher) and Toby Thom (second base); and junior Daniel Brink (pitcher/infield).
'Anders is hitting around .500 and Davis has also been hitting up a storm,' said Duhrkoop.
The Mustang diamond boss said he expects Brink, West and Colaco to be his main pitchers. All three are right-handers.
And Duhrkoop said he has 'two phenomenal catchers' in sophomores Jordan Entrikin and Jordan Walker.
'They've both got great arms. Entrikin is probably the best blocking catcher in the league. Nothing gets by him. Walker has a pretty good bat.'
Among other top prospects this year are juniors Frank (second base), Blake Babnick (first base) and Townsend (outfield); and sophomore Michael Smith (outfield).
'We're young and we may be a year away, but we'll compete,' said Duhrkoop. 'The thing I love about this group is they have a great work ethic. They play as a team, and they believe they are going to win….
'I have open gyms every morning, and I'm never lonely.'
Duhrkoop sees Clackamas, West Linn and Lake Oswego as the TRL's top teams. He expects his Mustangs, Putnam, Oregon City and Lakeridge to battle one another for the league's fourth and final spot in the state playoffs.
Milwaukie (1-3, 0-2) returns to league play next Monday at Clackamas (2-2, 1-1).