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Playoffs a real possibility for baseball

Talented Pioneers have a team mentality and the talent to go far in the postseason
by: File Photo, Sandy's Jordan Elliott takes off after hitting a home run in 2006.

After struggling toward the end of the 2006 season - and missing the playoffs by two games - Sandy High School baseball coach Garet Luebbert has high expectations for the Pioneers in 2007: A Mount Hood Conference title, a playoff berth and a deep run in the playoffs.

'We will think this season is a huge disappointment if we don't make the playoffs and battle for the league title,' Luebbert said. 'These kids have a great attitude and it is showing on the field in early practice.'

Last season the Pioneers (13-13 overall, 8-10 in league) lost four of their final five games to finish fifth in the Mount Hood Conference and out of the playoffs. This season - his fourth as head coach of the Pioneers - Luebbert looks for a stronger finish and better end result.

'Last year we struggled towards the end of the season and the kids' anxiety level increased and they struggled towards the end of a the games and we couldn't finish, which made us fall out of the playoffs. The kids have one thing on their mind this season, and that is a playoff berth.'

The Pioneers start 2007 with an experienced team including 10 seniors and four juniors, but Luebbert says the biggest difference from last season is the leadership on the field.

'Last season we had a couple of guys who weren't as motivated and were more focused on themselves and the attitude on the whole team suffered,' Luebbert said. 'We didn't have the leadership I'd hoped for (last season), but we did have some guys that overachieved and played well. This season a couple of guys have taken the leadership role and everyone seems ready to follow.

The Pioneers return 16 players from last seasons team and add out-of-state transfer Ryan Miller to a strong unit that hopes to battle for the Mount Hood Conference title.

'(Ryan) is a strong player that is probably one of the best defensive players in the state and is a strong pitcher that adds to our depth,' Luebbert said. 'You add him to seniors Eugene Wright, Joe Mafara, Karl Lorentson, Jake Fenwick and Chris Houle and I have a lot of weapons to choose from.'

Luebbert said that Wright and Lorentson have taken a vocal approach to leading this year's team.

'Eugene (Wright) is leading the younger kids by his hard work and sharing his love of baseball. He and Lorentson are the two leading this team, but everyone just seems to be stronger and they are all taking pride early,' Luebbert said.

The Pioneers return three 2006 second-team conference players in outfielders Jordan Elliott and Ryan Trosko and shortstop Jake Fenwick. Luebbert looks for those three to help lead a young team into battle vs. a strong Mount Hood Conference.

'We have scheduled a strong nonleague schedule to learn from and see what our team can do,' Luebbert said. 'When we get into league it will be a dogfight that any team is able to come out on top this season. I see twelve wins in league as the key to a title.'

Luebbert sees the conference playoff race coming down to the wire. Central Catholic, Gresham, Barlow and Centennial each made the playoffs last season, with Central Catholic advancing the furthest, losing in the third round of the 4A playoffs.

This season, the conference is part of the new 6A alignment where five teams earn playoff berths. Luebbert said the Pioneers look forward to a battle for the league title in a conference filled with parity and indicated that the team will use its preseason schedule to build momentum for the coming regular season.

'I think that we will play hard and continue to learn (during nonleague) and if we play our best baseball, we will be there at the end and should make the playoffs.'