BASEBALL: Gladstone knocks off defending state champion Astoria in its season opener

GLADSTONE - This could be the year of the Gladiator in Capital Conference baseball, if Gladstone coach Casey Webster can keep his charges healthy.

'Two of our pitchers got hurt in our first game,' said Webster. 'We're hoping they'll be back this week.'

Starter Eric McCartney injured his shoulder and reliever Alex Armstrong pulled a muscle in his neck, as the Gladiators stunned defending state champion Astoria 11-5 in last week's opener.

The Gladiators have a senior-dominated lineup.

'We definitely have the talent [to contend for a league title],' said Gladstone coach Casey Webster. 'The potential is there. It's whether we can come together as a group, and stay focused.'

On any given day, the Gladiators could start seniors at every position.

Among the top players returning from last year's team that placed fourth in the Tri-Valley League are seniors Joe Kociemba and McCartney, both second-team all-league selections.

Webster says he has three pitchers who are pretty outstanding, and Kociemba throws the hardest of the three. The senior right-hander returns to start at shortstop when he's not on the mound.

McCartney returns to start at first base, and Webster rates him as one of the Gladiators' top pitchers, along with left-handed senior Billy West, an honorable mention all-league selection at pitcher last year.

West returns to start in left field when he's not on the hill.

Seniors Kyle Mudd and Kociemba return to start at second and shortstop respectively. Mudd was an honorable mention all-league pick as a junior.

Senior Joey Deagle, who split time at catcher last season, returns as the Gladiator field general.

Senior Donny LaBar, who was slowed by injuries through much of last season, returns to start at third. But he is being pushed by juniors Brady Regier and Drew McNall.

Playing in the outfield with West will be senior Chris Swalko (center), and either senior Mitch Foteff, junior Trey Durkee or junior Brett Holte.

Webster also has two very capable back-up pitchers in senior Kevin Gamble and junior Alex Armstrong, both left-handers. They'll fill in for McCartney at first, when McCartney is pitching.

McCartney, Armstrong and Kociemba all took a turn on the mound in the opener with Astoria, scattering six hits and striking out six.

'Our pitching and defense were pretty good for a first game,' said Webster. 'But I was especially happy with the way we swung the bats.'

The Gladiators reached Astoria pitchers for 12 hits.

Gamble and West pitched a 3-hitter, combining for 17 strikeouts in a 6-1 win at Yamhill-Carlton last Thursday.

But with McCartney and Armstrong resting their injuries, the Gladiators ran out of pitching and fell to Seaside 12-10 on Friday.

LeBar was 3-for-4 at the plate at Yamhill-Carlton; Foteff went 4-for-5 in the loss to Seaside.

Webster said the jury is still out as to which teams will be his Gladiators' toughest opponents in the new Capital Conference. But he said he expects North Marion, La Salle, Molalla and Cascade to field competitive programs.

The Gladiators were to host North Marion in this week's conference opener. They vie at Estacada today at 4 p.m., and they entertain Stayton on Friday.

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