Q&A: A postseason wrap-up with Molalla baseball's seniors
When Molalla baseball head coach Jim Dantona speaks highly of his players, you can tell he means it.
Dantona eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball and he's more than a little excited to be in Molalla coaching baseball, as evidenced by his eagerness to get together with his three starting seniors for a postseason interview.
I was joined by seniors Aaron Alexander, Will Schaefer, and Trevor Miles to talk baseball now that things have cooled off a little bit after the end to their season a few weeks ago.
Q: As seniors, what were your expectations coming into this season?
A: Will – My expectations weren't as high as you'd think because we lost some seniors and there was a new coach, a new system – no assistant coaches stayed, it was 100 percent – and I thought that there'd only be one team, I knew that we'd have freshmen starting, I just expected a third of fourth-place finish.
Trevor – I kind of felt the same, we were all kind of in the same boat expecting to finish in the middle of the pack, not really up towards the top. It was kind of a building year; as Will said, new staff, a lot of young players starting.
Aaron – I would say the same thing; going into the year, we didn't have a coach for a long time, and that, as players, is nerve racking. You don't know when you're going to get into a cage, when you're going to start. We did know … that we had a lot of baseball players coming up [from middle school], so we knew for a fact that we were going to start some young guys, but I knew that us seniors, we have to take more a leadership role and set a good example for them to continue on knowing that we might not be as good as we wanted to be, but I think we did better than what we thought, as seniors, we would do.
Q: What was the transition like with a new coaching staff coming in?
A: Aaron – It's different because practices are completely different; everything you've done for, three years for us, it kind of just goes out the window. A new philosophy comes in and you don't know what the coach is going to think of you as a player or your skillset because he's only seen you for not that long compared to a coach that's seen you for three years and knows what you can do.
Will – I was in basketball still and right when [Dantona] came, I was afraid that other guys were going to get to be preseason practicing more and I was afraid someone was going to take my spot, and it's just interesting coming into a new season with a new coach.
Trevor – I just wanted to see how the coaches were, get to know them a little more, maybe have some less conditioning – just kind of see how the season is going to go, get a feel for how the coaching is going to be.
Q: It seemed like there was a big turning point in the season after 13 games; starting out 7-6 and then winning seven in a row, so what do you guys think it was that turned the momentum at that point in the season?
A: Aaron – I think that was when we really solidified some positions; we had some guys step up and really be dedicated to maybe not play the position they wanted to or thought they would, but they did what was best for the team, and that overall helped our team.
Will – I remember that last loss [against Estacada April 21] was really a heartbreaker in the 12th inning, and I think after that we were just a little pissed off so to say, and we just didn't want to lose anymore.
Trevor – Those first preseason games we were moving a lot of people around, trying to get a good rhythm and feel for what worked and what didn't to see what the skillsets were and what people's strengths were, where they were needed.
Q: What are some of your thoughts on the season now that things are over and have settled down a bit?
A: Will – I would say it's probably the best season of any sport I've had in my entire life. The coaching, they cared so much about us as individuals as well as players on the team, and it was a lot more fun that any season I've ever had, a lot of goofing off, a lot of good times, good practices, good games, and obviously our record exceeded 100 percent of what I thought it was going to be.
Trevor – We kind of just jelled as a team; we had a lot of fun at practices, goofing off a lot as Will said, joking around and jabbing with each other, that just overall helped the way we played.
Aaron – I would say compared to last year we played really loose this year, which is a really great thing especially for young guys – to not be all nervous before a game. It just helps people play loose and not worry about the outcome where if you're scared you won't perform as well; all of us really joke around and it really helped the freshmen not take it so seriously.
Q: What is the highlight of the season for you?
A: Will – The highlight for me would probably be our away game at Gladstone [May 3] when we were down 7-2 and we all kind of had our heads down in the fourth or fifth inning. It was tough to come back from, but then we had a rally, tied it up, went to extras, and won it in OT.
Trevor – That's mine too; it's amazing what a coupe hits can do and how that can change a whole mindset in a matter of two seconds, how a couple hits can rally and turn into nine runs.
Aaron – I would say between that and our home win against Estacada [April 29]; that was a big one to help catch us up for [a shot at] that league title, even obviously now knowing it didn't work out that way, but back then that game was a big win for all of us, a big motivation boost. It was with a bases loaded walkoff hit by pitch, but even though it happened that way, it gave the freshmen a big boost, gave us a big boost as a club that we could do this.
Q: What do you think were some of the biggest changes made this season and what worked the best for you?
A: Will – I think we were a lot more aggressive on the bases; if we hit one to the outfield and there was someone on second, there was like a 95 percent chance coach was sending them home, and it worked most of the time.
Trevor – We would just take runs when we could get them, we would scrap for those runs and keep fighting, don't let them come back, make them worried a little bit and make them cause an error.
Aaron – We didn't hit near as much at practice this year; last year we hit every single day, and looking back I can see that as a bad thing because if you hit too much, I do think you develop some bad habits, you start to get lazy with your swing and you start to get used to that. I think we hit just the right amount, and maybe with some new coaches that had different philosophies on hitting, such as taking pitches or letting guys get moved around before we start swinging and just put the ball in play.
Q: Jumping back to the Junction City game in the bottom of the seventh, down by two with two outs on the board, I'm curious to know what's going through your heads at the plate. All three of you get an at-bat in that inning, but are you thinking about it possibly being your last one of your high school career, about the season momentarily being on your shoulders, or do you try to not think about that?
A: Aaron – I know when I was up with two outs and no one on, I had to start something, or else the season was over. I remember stepping in the box thinking 'I'm going to get a hit,' that's what was in my head – in my head I wasn't saying 'You can't be the last out,' I was saying 'I'm going to get a hit,' or 'I'm going to find a way on base.' So I think me finding a way on slowly gave each batter a little bit of hope that they could do the same thing and it started a rally. When I got on I was able to steal and move around the bases, and that made [Junction City] more nervous as we started getting closer.
Will – When I was up, I tried to ignore the fact that I could be the last out, so I just tried to think of it was any other at-bat, going for a hit, got men on and try to get them home.
Trevor – I was kind of upset with myself [after striking out]; I was struggling that whole game at the plate going from a slow lefty to a fast righty kind of threw me off and then once I saw we had guys on base, it gave me hope that we could stay in it and potentially win it.
Q: Aaron, at the start of the top of the eighth against Junction City, you're within a dozen pitches of your pitch count limit  and you have the chance to finish out the game. You've got two outs and you're at 107 pitches when you end up striking him out to end the inning; are you thinking about that at all, does it matter to you?
A: Aaron – Before that inning, I did know my pitch count, but I try not to track it in my head during the inning because that will get me off track a little bit and I don't want to be thinking about that. But I heard in the dugout that this was my last batter, and so knowing how close of a game it was, I was going to do everything I could. When I got to that last batter, I had to give it everything I had, everything left in my arm, so I was still trying to throw just as hard, and I definitely didn't want to walk him because I didn't want that to be my last out of that game. I attacked him with strikes and going right at him, trying to find a corner that he would watch trying to get on base, and that's what I did.
Q: Where do you feel the program now stands? What sorts of attitudes or conceptions about the Molalla baseball program do you think have changed?
A: Will – I think as long as Jim Dantona is the Molalla baseball coach, the program will continue go upwards, it will always be on the rise.
Aaron – Looking at it from being a senior that's done, it really sucks. But the freshmen that gained that experience this year, it's very beneficial to them and they'll develop more, so I don't see anything but good things coming from them.
Trevor – There's a lot of talent with those younger guys, I just hope they continue to play loose and have fun out there. Don't always play super tight, and just have a little fun.
Q: Obviously you guys have coaching and drills and things you need to do each day, but it sounds like you, as players, were given the opportunity to provide input on what you think needed to be worked on in practice and where things should go. What did that do for the team's attitude and performance?
A: Trevor – This year, I kind of felt like we could almost make our own practice and put in our own two cents about something like 'Let's do this or try this,' whereas last year I felt like we were all kind of restricted and couldn't say too much or question things.
Aaron – I think last year, [Potter's] philosophy was kind of more, he had his schedules planned out and everything, where if we asked Dantona what we were doing today he'd be like 'Well, we'll wait and see;' we just kind of went with how the feel of the practice was going, and that really, as a player, we wanted to know what we were doing but then again we had a voice in what we wanted to do. I saw that as very beneficial.
Alexander will be attending Pacific University in Forest Grove where he'll study Criminal Justice as a dual-sport athlete, playing on the baseball and football teams.
Miles wants to continue playing baseball, but he doesn't know where yet. He leaves for Advanced Individual Training in Texas for the National Guard. He'll train for 16 weeks in pursuit of his EMT license to become a combat medic. After that, he said he might join OSU's ROTC program or find somewhere else to play baseball.
Schaefer will attend Oregon State University and study Biology while he looks to continue playing baseball casually.
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