The Mustangs return eight experienced players, including two top pitchers

With a good nucleus of returning players, Milwaukie High baseball coach Dan Lee believes his Mustangs have the potential to be competitive in the Northwest Oregon Conference this spring, if they play good defense and get consistent performances from their pitchers.

“We have a lot of seniors, but we lost a couple of all-state caliber players,” Lee said. “We have the potential to be good, and be in a lot of games. But we can’t get in a hitting contest with other teams and expect to win. We’re going to have to play good defense, manufacture runs and get decent pitching. We can’t get into a slugfest.”

Lee said he was surprised with his Mustangs’ showing in their March 12 season opener with Forest Grove, a 17-3 loss.

“I thought our pitching was going to be pretty good,” Lee said. “But we had three guys pitch. They walked seven guys, hit five batters and gave up 10 hits, including three home runs. I was surprised.”

The Mustangs had a better outcome last Thursday, when they traveled to McKay and junior left-hander Randall Sam went the distance on the hill in a 5-0 shutout. Sam walked no one, hit one batter and had four strikeouts in a 3-hitter; and his teammates played error-free ball behind him.

The Mustangs had only five hits and three earned runs, but they made their hits count. Milwaukie scored twice in the first inning, on a RBI-groundout by senior infielder T.J. Fisher and on a run-scoring sacrifice fly by junior outfielder Elias Brezai.

Brezai and senior Jordan Huntley teamed up for a successful double steal to bring another run around in the top of the seventh, and the Mustangs scored two unearned runs in the third.

Senior infielder Steven Yerman (2-for-3) led the Mustangs at the plate, reaching on a pair of base hits and scoring two runs.

The Mustangs return eight players who saw a great deal of playing time last year, including seniors Yerman (shortstop), Jason Espinoza (outfield/pitcher), Jose Penuelas (catcher), Nate Wilson (outfield/pitcher), Fischer (third base), Kyle Stone (second base) and Jordan Huntley (first base/pitcher); and junior Randall Sam (outfield/pitcher).

Espinoza is a four-year starter; Yerman is a third-year starter; Penuelas, Wilson and Fisher also started last year.

Lee said he expects, Wilson and Espinoza, who were among his top three pitchers last year, to be his top pitchers this spring. But he says he also expects big things from Sam, and from Fisher, “either as a spot starter or a closer.”

“I think we’ve got four pretty decent pitchers,” Lee said.

However, Milwaukie will miss graduate Keynan Middleton, who was co-NWOC Pitcher of the Year last year, with Wilsonville junior Clayton Gelfand.

The Mustangs travel to Hermiston March 25-26 for a round-robin tournament with Pendleton, Roseburg, Reynolds and Hermiston.

They begin NWOC play on Tuesday, April 2, when they play Wilsonville on the road.

Lee said that until someone proves otherwise, he expects Sherwood and Wilsonville to be the top teams in the NWOC. Sherwood lost to Summit in the semifinals last year, after finishing first in the NWOC, with a 19-2 record in conference play.

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