Braves off to fast start
Paced by two strong pitching performances, Banks' young team opens league play with a pair of convincing wins over Tillamook
First-year Banks baseball coach Brian Ackerman believes the non-league season is the perfect time to evaluate a team's strengths and weaknesses, and this year nothing was more important than sizing up his pitching staff.
'The big thing for me is pitching, pitching, pitching. I wanted to get out and see what we had,' Ackerman said. 'For me, the preseason is less about wins and losses, and more about seeing these kids and seeing what they've got.
'I'll take a loss as a coach if it means I can get a few more kids into a game.'
The Braves went 3-4 in their seven non-league games this year, using a slew of different pitchers in the process, but those games told Ackerman everything he needed to know about his staff going into the start of Cowapa League play.
The rookie head coach was plenty pleased, then, with the pitching performances he got last week, with senior Devin Wyckoff and sophomore Devin King combining to allow just three runs over 11 innings in a pair of mercy-rule victories against Tillamook.
Wyckoff threw a six-inning complete game with six strikeouts in a 12-1 win over Tillamook last Thursday, and King struck out seven batters in five innings of work last Friday, guiding the Braves to a 12-2 victory.
For Ackerman, the biggest stat of the weekend was buried in the box scores - Banks' two pitchers combined to walk just six hitters in two games.
'We don't have anyone who will blow batters away, so we've got to keep teams off balance and they did that really well,' Ackerman said.
Banks broke open both games with big third-inning rallies, scoring seven runs in the third inning of Thursday's game and plating six runs in the third on Friday.
Grayson Partain went 2-for-3 with two RBIs in the series opener, while Shane Spiering was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Joey Bonin also had two hits for the Braves.
On Friday, Banks took a 1-0 lead into the third inning, but broke the game open in consecutive at-bats. Spiering started things with a bases-loaded double that scored two runs, and senior first baseman Bubba Brown followed with a towering three-run home run to left-center field, giving the Braves a 7-0 lead.
Partain again went 2-for-3 at the plate with two RBIs, while Brown was 2-for-2 with five RBIs, including a two-run single in the fourth inning. Bonin had two hits and an RBI, and Eric Sommerfield also drove in a pair of runs for Banks.
'We're hitting the ball pretty well, but it all starts with our pitching,' Ackerman said. 'We need those guys to throw strikes and keep hitters off balance, and they both did that last week.'
In addition to Wyckoff and King as the team's starting pitchers, Ackerman said he feels confident with at least five others as relievers, and he also plans to use Partain as a closer, allowing the junior to reprise a role he has owned since his freshman year.
'We're real confident in him to come in and slam the door on teams,' Ackerman said of Partain. 'The rest of the staff looks pretty good. I feel good about our pitching depth.'
The Braves will continue Cowapa play with two games this week against Scappoose, followed by two games next week against Seaside.