MHC BASEBALL PREVIEW - Centennial and Reynolds boast strong pitching staffs
The race for the Mount Hood Conference title appears to be anyone's guess once again after last year's runaway champion Sandy graduated four all-league players from its roster.
That opens the door for last year's runner-up Barlow to stake its claim or for a veteran Centennial squad to make a huge leap after missing the playoffs a year ago. Sandy should also remain in the mix after opening the 2008 campaign with a 3-1 win over No. 6-ranked Jesuit.
'It will be a dog fight again,' Reynolds coach Kelly Larkin said. 'We had a lot of one-run games last year, so playing with poise and composure will be a big key for whoever wins this league.'
Following are previews of the five local teams:
• Barlow returns a pair of all-league players in senior infielder Derrick Hough and junior pitcher Jacob Kopra, but will also rely on some new faces in their quest for a return to the playoffs this spring. Hough earned second-team, all-state honors at third base last season, but will put on a catcher's mitt this spring.
The pitching staff appears to be the strong point of this year's squad, led by Kopra at the top of the rotation along with returning juniors Mike Siefert and Zach Lumsden. The group also gets a boost with the addition of junior Brandon Weller - a transfer from Kentucky. Kopra, Lumsden and Weller combined to allow only one walk during the Bruins' spring break tournament in Beaverton.
• Reynolds is off to a 4-2 start in nonleague play and is the only Mount Hood team to crack the preseason top-10 in the coaches' poll. The Raiders have plenty of reason for optimism, led by a senior trio on the mound in pitcher's Zarr Swanson and Ben Kahklen along with left-hander Cody Ching.
'We're really deep on the mound. If we get into trouble, we can reach in there and get people out,' Raiders' coach Kelly Larkin said. 'They are all power pitchers, who come right after you. They're tough to hit.'
Swanson and Kahklen play the outfield when not on the mound, while Ching mans first base.
The infield is bolstered by the return of three-year starters Cody Cook at catcher and Nick Prante at second base.
• David Douglas struggled to a last-place finish last season, ending the season on a nine-game losing streak. Part of the problem was an offensive lineup that produced a league-low 3.8 runs per game, but the Scots also suffered some tough breaks going 0-3 in one-run games.
'You need some luck in this game, and we had zero,' Scots' coach Mike Fitz said. 'We just didn't seem to get a break anywhere. This year, it's just a matter of getting some of those big wins.'
That should be within reach for a squad that features plenty of talent, including one of the league's elite pitchers in senior Jordan Baylis. The offense is powered by senior third-baseman Trevor Moore, who banged a school-record 14 doubles last year.
• Gresham returns seniors in several key positions, but will rely on some new faces to pile up wins in 2008. Many of those newcomers gained valuable experience during the summer season in which the Gophers advanced to the Final Four at the 'A' legion state tournament.
'We had a pretty good summer, and we're hoping that success carries over,' Gresham coach Chad Waples said.
The Gophers return experience on the corner of the infield with senior Kyle Elkins at third base and junior Michael Mehlhaff at first. Teammate Zach Brown returns behind the plate, while senior Shawn Ell anchors the outfield.
The biggest change is on the pitcher's mound where the team graduated its top two starters from last year's playoff team. Junior Matt Pachmann leads this year's staff after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury, while senior Jake Boyd moves up from the junior varsity squad.
• A four-game losing streak late last season dropped Centennial out of the state playoffs. The Eagles hope to be in better position for a postseason run with a veteran lineup in 2008.
The Eagles have plenty of firepower on the pitching mound going eight deep in the rotation of available arms. Kenneth Clarke heads the lineup that includes five seniors, along with junior Kevin Miller who offers a change of pace as a left-hander.
The infield has seniors Tyler Horner and Markus Martz on the corners with the junior tandem of Michael Hopp and Beau Day anchoring the middle. Senior Cam Glasser returns behind the plate. Hopp earned all-league honors at second base last season.
The outfield boasts plenty of speed with a trio of seniors, Drew Fisher, Jacob Shoda and T.J. Anderson, chasing fly balls. Troy Harris is a utility player that can fill a variety of positions.
Centennial put in a solid summer season winning the AAA legion district tournament.