The Valiants hope to recapture the magic of their great 2007 season

BEAVERTON - There's a bunch of new starters and even a new coach, but the winning mentality remains for the Valley Catholic baseball team.

And the Valiants did plenty of it last year, going 26-0 and capturing the West Valley League title before losing in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.

Valley Catholic looks to continue that success in 2008 with six first-year starters and first-year coach Sawyer Smith, who added baseball to his repertoire after assisting with VC football and basketball earlier this school year.

Smith replaces John Perrigo, who is concentrating on being head coach of the Valiants' football program. Smith knows he inherits a team that is determined to continue last year's success but has some work to do after graduating four all-state selections.

'Anytime you go through losing only one game, you're not accustomed to losing,' Smith said. 'They go out planning to win. They're not used to anything else. It's a good quality to have. It makes it easier to coach.'

So does having a player the caliber of senior Patrick Dempsey, who was a 2nd team all-state and 1st team all-league outfielder in 2007. Smith said Dempsey is the team's 'best pitcher and hitter' and pitched VC to a 2-1 victory over Horizon Christian in the league opener.

'The way he's throwing right now, I'm not afraid to throw him against anybody,' said Smith. 'He's consistently around the plate, throws hard and challenges batters.'

Dempsey hits third in the order while senior Matt Russo, a first baseman, is the team's cleanup hitter. The pair will be asked to head a young roster.

'They're kind of lead by example type of guys,' Smith said. 'Everybody pretty much follows along what they do.'

Setting up those two in the order are sophomores James Fuller (shortstop) and Taylor Buuck (shortstop/second base), while outfielder Jeremy Peters bats fifth. The Valiants' lineup can be potent, having scored 13 runs in an inning this spring. VC has scored 54 runs in a 4-3 start to the 2008 season.

'We worked defense early in the season,' Smith said. 'Our hitting is just starting to come around right now. We can hit the ball.'

Joining Dempsey in Valley Catholic's pitching rotation is sophomore James Fuller and Buuck, while Peters will come on in relief. Sophomore Connor Walsh is the team's catcher.

Sophomore RJ Peterson also plays catcher but moved to third base because 'we want to get both on the field,' Smith explained. 'They are both pretty good athletes.'

Fuller also plays shortstop and has been 'hitting the ball pretty well,' according to Smith. Sophomore Spencer Gates is the team's best defensive outfielder and will be joined there by freshman Cesar Catibayan.

Smith is unfamiliar with the league but does know one thing.

'We expect to compete for a title again,' he said. 'I don't know about the other teams, but I do know that we can compete at this level.'

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