Pioneers play flawless defense in their baseball opener

by: JON HOUSE - Oregon City coach Greg Lord is counting on senior Clay Valenzuela-Reece to lead a youthful Oregon City baseball team to success this spring. A three-year starter, Valenzuela Reece is playing shortstop for the Pioneers this year, after catching last year. Valenzuela-Reece is pictured playing third base and making the tag on Thurstons Stefan Drake in 2012, when the Pioneers beat the Colts in the state-title game.Oregon City High School has a youthful lineup in baseball this spring, but Oregon City coach Greg Lord likes what he’s seen from his charges so far.

“We’re really young,” Lord said. “We only have four seniors on the team. But I like our moxie. I like how they went out after it last night [a 13-0 shutout of Roosevelt in their season opener]. They hustled....

“This group of kids is very coachable. They are hungry to be successful, and they’ll do what it takes.... We’ve had days where we’ve had two practices in a day. They’ll come at 6:30 in the morning and practice and at 3:30 they’ll be back at it practicing again....

“I see Clackamas and Lake Oswego going neck-and-neck for the Three Rivers League title, and us battling it out with the rest of the teams in the league for those 3, 4 and 5 spots. But I’m not counting us out. Anyone can beat anybody on a given night. We won it all a few years ago and that was with a team that finished third in league....”

Lord had a lot to like about the way his charges performed in their season opener with the Roughriders. They played error-free ball for seven innings and they reached Roosevelt pitchers for 11 hits.

Typically a young team struggles with defense, especially early in the season. But Lord said he was not surprised with his team’s defensive showing.

“We take pride in our defense,” he said. “We spend a lot of time in the gym when we can’t get on the grass, and we work a lot on fundamentals.”

Senior infielder Jalen Satter had the big stick, going 4-for-5, with a double, three base hits, three RBI and four runs scored.

Sophomore designated hitter Trevor Martin went 2-for-3, with a double and three RBI. Sophomore infielder Tyler Sheldon (3 runs scored) smacked a triple. Senior outfielder Jack Powell (2 RBI) and junior catcher Zach Sprague (2 runs scored) also had extra base hits. Sophomore outfielder Christian Hood (2-for-5) had a pair of hits and two RBI.

“I like the way we swung the bats,” Lord said. “We put the ball in play and we scored in every inning but one.”

Junior right-hander Austin Johnson pitched the first five frames of the shutout, striking out three and yielding two hits. Junior Brady Scott (2 strikeouts, 3 hits) and freshman Cade Hennessy (one strikeout) finished up in relief.

Lord says that Johnson keeps his pitches down and that he and junior right-hander Wiley Braun will be his top two pitchers this year.

“Right now we don’t know who number three will be,” Lord said. “We have some arms, but number three may be by committee.”

Lord said that Hennessy, Christian Hood and others will get the opportunity to prove themselves over spring break, as the Pioneer coaching staff works to find a third starter on the mound.

Lord says he likes the leadership he’s seen from senior Clay Valenzuela-Reece, who he’s moved from behind the plate to shortstop. He was an honorable mention all-league catcher as a junior.

“He’s a three-year starter who played on our state championship team and he’s really matured as a player,” said Lord. “He’s a great field general and having him at shortstop solidifies our infield.”

Lord added, “Clay’s our team captain and he’s the only team captain I’ve selected in 44 years of coaching. I’m extra tough on him, but I expect a lot from him. He was a great leader in football and I expect that leadership to carry right over into baseball.”

The Pioneers have another returning starter in the infield in Satter, who will play first and second for the Pioneers this spring. He was a starter in the outfield a year ago.

Sprague has earned the starting nod at catcher; Johnson will start at first when he’s not pitcher; Braun will share second base with Satter when he is not pitching; Sheldon has earned the starting nod at third.

Seniors Terrel Hood and Jack Powell are starting in center and left field respectively. Both saw part-time starting action on varsity a year ago.

The Pioneers have been on the road over spring break, playing teams in Las Vegas and San Bernardino, Calif.

They return home on Wednesday, April 2, when they host Liberty. Gametime is 5 p.m. They entertain McNary on April 3, before finishing up preseason with away games with Wilson (April 4) and Central Catholic (April 7).

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