Culver baseball preview: Bulldogs look for continuity
Although their season ended sooner than they hoped, the Culver Bulldogs closed their 2017 regular season playing arguably their best baseball of the spring.
Culver won four of five games to close the regular season, which included a 17-2 thrashing of then-No. 1 ranked Dufur, which was undefeated going into the second of their doubleheader game May 12.
Those wins propelled the Bulldogs into a Special District 6 playoff game at Sherman, where the winner would advance to the district tournament. Sherman eventually beat Culver by a close, 4-3 result.
Ten months have passsed since then, a couple key players graduated, but the Bulldogs felt like they found momentum down the stretch of last season to carry them forward. They hope to continue on this season where they left off.
"We didn't lose a ton of seniors last year, so we still got a lot of chemistry going on," senior Cole Little said. "We're working pretty well together, we're communicating pretty well, and we definitely want to make it to playoffs since we were so close last year. We want to capitalize on all those little things."
Little is the Bulldogs' incumbent ace pitcher, but he will have plenty of support on the mound.
The Bulldogs' schedule includes six doubleheaders, half of which come during crucial SD6 games.
Factoring in the OSAA's pitch count rules, Culver and its opponents are forced to trot out several pitchers during the course of two games in one afternoon. Thankfully for the Bulldogs, they have the personnel to make it work.
Though they graduated all-league pitcher Brogan Alegre last season, Culver returns nearly everyone else who saw significant time.
That bullpen includes senior Jordan Bender, sophomore Cord Gomes, junior Tadd Anderson and senior Weston Basl, who seldom pitched last season, but is stepping into a closer role in his last high school season.
Backing that stable of pitchers is a dependable defense, both infield and outfield, that was a strong point of last year's team.
Their best lineup, with Little on the mound, appears to be Gomes at first base, Basl at second, Anderson at shortstop and Jamal Ortiz at third.
Players believe the biggest key to Culver's success will come on the batting side, which was inconsistent at times last season.
"Our pitching and fielding is probably the (strong point)," Basl said. "Our bats just need to keep up. Sometimes we have games where we barely have one hit, so we just need to clean that up and get our hits going."
The Bulldogs will experiement with different combinations during the preseason, Culver head coach Shea Little said. One possibility involves junior slugger Cylus Hoke taking on the designated hitter slot, with younger guys like Anthony Hood and Justyce Loredo joining Bender in the outfield.
Aside from Alegre's departure, the Bulldogs will also miss the services of catcher Mack Little, who was the vocal leader of the Bulldogs' defense, in addition to his strong on base percentage. Junior Joe Russo is tasked with filling those shoes.
"We've got to fill Mack's spot back there, and Joe is ready for it, man, he wants it," Shea Little said. "I think he's going to do a great job."
Because the SD6 is split into two divisions this year, Culver will only play Dufur, Sherman and Heppner/Ione during league. With the top two teams advancing to the SD6 tournament, competition will be stiff among those four squads.
"We're all going to be battling for those two spots to go to districts," Shea Little said. "The two from the west will be competing and probably have a good shot to go on to state."