Featured Stories

Baseball: Pair of aces lead playoff-hopeful Lions

Lions eye top-two finish in NW Oregon Conference standings

JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Members of the 2015 pitching staff share a laugh during practice last week. The Lions' pitching should be the key to their playoff run.There was plenty to be proud of in the opening days of practice for Jeff Timmons. The third-year head coach for the St. Helens baseball program finally had enough athletes to add something outsiders might not get quite as excited about as he was: a second junior varsity team for the first time in years.

Timmons had two 15-man rosters last season, and made only a few cuts. As only nine players can start, the remaining six spent much of their time on the bench when, especially for the JV athletes, game-experience is at a premium.

The addition of the third team allows Timmons to retain and develop the younger kids with the hope of cultivating stars at a younger age. The biggest upside, though, is that he won't have to cut as many athletes.

“[The drop off is] unbelievable,” Timmons said. “When you don't get to play, ever, or you get cut from baseball as a freshman, it's like, 'come back next year,' and you don't get them back.”

The JV2 team will most likely play an all-freshman schedule, but it gives the chance for the younger, less-experienced kids to grow against other teams at their same level.

JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Jeff Timmons directs players during practice last week, taking advantage of the clear weather to get time on the field before the season begins.The goal for the last two years has been a playoff berth, and while the Lions missed out last season by inches, the student body seems to have taken notice of the program's growing resume, according to Timmons.

“I think when people see you winning, all of the sudden your numbers start to go up,” he said.

The success centers on Timmons' pride and joy: half of the returning all-league pitchers play on his roster. But does he have an ace?

“I think I've got two, and I really do. I think I've got two,” Timmons said. “Between [Ryne Poorman] and [Bryce Sanford], they're both all-league pitchers from last year, and of all the kids that came back — obviously I don't know what La Salle and Hillsboro have, but of all the teams that came back to our league, I think there were only four all-league pitchers that came back. And I have two of them. Sherwood had about the rest of them.”

The Bowmen of Sherwood have since departed for the Class 6A ranks, leaving a power vacuum in the NW Oregon Conference. Sandy, winner of the 2014 5A state title, lost a big part of their lineup. Sherwood is gone, and Putnam lost “everybody,” according to Timmons, including two-time NWOC player of the year and Major League Baseball draftee Trace Loehr.

Timmons doesn't see simply making the postseason as the program's goal for the season, but rather chose to set his sights on finishing in the top four — or even top two. The top two teams from the NW Oregon Conference get a bye to the round of 16 in the Class 5A playoffs, while the third and fourth seeds host during the play-in round. The fifth and sixth seeds travel, which would mean a trip to the eastern side of the state.

“Our goal is to be in the top four and the highest goal is to win an NWOC title,” Timmons said. “To be honest with you, I think we've got what it takes. Having everybody that we have [come] back, compared to what everybody else lost, I think we're a contender as long as we produce what we're capable of.”

Timmons plans to play the same small-ball style the Lions have become familiar with and will likely see from other teams in the league, given the talent St. Helens has on the mound.

“The way that the bats are, we've got a little speed and everything else, and we've got kids that can bunt and we've got kids that know how to run ... and we're going to try and manufacture runs,” Timmons said. “When you have two pitchers that have ERAs of under or right at three, you score four runs, a lot of the time you're going to win. We don't need to hit home runs and doing anything like that.”

St. Helens will kick things off with a home game against Benson on March 17 at 4:30 p.m.