Newberg baseball coach Tyler Matlock isn't putting too much stock into his 18-U summer baseball team's 21-7 win over St. Paul July 12, as it was clearly a mismatch that was tilted heavily in his team's favor.
Matlock and the Tigers do have a lot to be proud of, though, after going 16-3 and having just the kind of season they were looking for after a two-year layoff from summer baseball.
"We needed to gain confidence," senior Jacob Maiben said. "For years, we haven't been able to get past our negative emotions, but we're definitely gaining confidence for next year."
The No. 1 goal for the season was to get back to simply playing the game and therefore allowing it to be fun again in a varsity season, Matlock's first as head coach, in which the players put too much pressure on themselves. Matlock praised them for buying into the approach from the start.
"We wanted them to enjoy their friends and that camaraderie," Matlock said. "They really did that and it translated immediately onto the field and to what we were trying to do. The wins were really nice."
Newberg opened the summer with an 8-7 loss to Centennial June 12, but then ripped off nine consecutive wins.
The Tigers didn't lose again until falling 8-7 to the Mid-Valley Southpaws in their second game at the Western Oregon University tournament, where they went on to finish third.
"You go 16-3 in the summer and two of those losses are against very high competition and you take them to extra innings and it makes you think, 'Wow. This is what we're building towards," Matlock said. "You can start to see us climb that ladder and it feels really good, really positive."
The team was led by a core of players, including brothers Derek and Jacob Maiben, Anthony Stigall, Cameron Laroche and Brandon Cervantes.
The Maibens both earned all-league recognition in the spring and Matlock already knew that Stigall, especially, was a strong leader, but said he was quite impressed with the strides the senior made on the field.
"His bat came alive," Matlock said. "We could move him anywhere in the lineup, from first down to nine, and he would find a way to put a ball in play. There were a couple of times he hit balls, especially down at Western where it's 390 in the gaps, that anywhere in our league those are home runs."
Stigall was also one of the team's top pitchers over the summer and he will be a major part of the pitching rotation next spring during high school play.
Matlock said he was also pleased to see Cervantes show great improvement at the plate, as he controlled his at-bats more and found increased success.
"Guys are going to have to pitch to him this year," Matlock said. "It's going to be interesting to see what happens when they can't pitch around him because you've surrounded him with Derek Maiben and Cam Laroche. You pick your poison at that point."
Matlock also praised senior Brandon Ferris for taking on a leadership role with the team despite the fact that he didn't get as much field time as he was hoping for.
"His leadership and willingness to do anything to help the team move forward goes a long, long way to let the younger guys that are coming up with us see that's how it's really done, that you're willing to sacrifice self for the betterment of the team," Matlock said.
With a large percentage of the team set to be unavailable, Matlock cancelled Newberg's final series versus St. Helens this weekend, but was still quite pleased with what the Tigers were able to accomplish in just a month's time.
"I am so pleased and happy with the kids," Matlock said. "It goes back to loving the game of baseball and having fun with it."
Laroche, for one, said he believes the team will be able to carry over a lot of the positive momentum into next year's varsity season.
"I don't know that we'll be amazing next year, but I think we'll have a special team," Laroche said. "I think we can all agree our goal is to have a winning record. We've all been talking a lot and our main goal is to get an automatic playoff berth, not get a play-in game next year. We all think that's very within reach."