Philomath High’s baseball program really needed to get in some games this summer. With the season canceled entirely in 2020 and a limited schedule in 2021, player development took a major hit. Playing catch, taking ground balls and getting in some swings at the cages help, of course, but nothing replaces actual games.
Coach Levi Webber stressed the importance of Philomath getting its D1 team out on the diamond. The team ended up playing 16 games in 22 days.
“The crew that’s going to be seniors, juniors and sophomores, they missed that whole year to develop and any opportunity you get to play,” he said. “Even if it was only a 16-game schedule, it was good to get those 16 games in because there’s a lot of baseball that needs to be learned and areas to be grown upon. It was nice to get out here and get after it for a summer.”
The team compiled an 8-7-1 record with a roster that saw 19 different players getting in on the action.
“We were able to bring in four eighth graders — going to be freshmen — into the mix,” Webber said. “They expressed interest in playing … I knew all of those kids could throw a little bit, so they were going to help us out along with playing their schedule for the eighth-grade level.”
A few other realities also factored into needing an expanded roster — that busy schedule, for one, along with the inevitable unavailability of some players that participate in other sports, have job commitments or go on family vacations.
“I knew it was going to be crazy and kind of a whirlwind of a three-week schedule,” Webber said. “It gave us an opportunity to see just about all of our guys.”
A couple of players expected back did not participate this summer and in addition, returnees Cameron Ordway and Carson Gerding, who will both be seniors next season, have been playing this summer for the Corvallis American Legion baseball team.
“Obviously we didn’t get to see them all summer, but they’re both playing every day for T. Gerding, which is awesome and will be good for both of them,” Webber said.
Philomath’s Adam Hernandez, who graduated, is also playing Legion ball with the Corvallis Marketmen.
With the number of kids signed up, Les & Bob’s didn’t have to forfeit any games with usually 11 to 14 available for each contest.
“We did open substitution for almost all of our games, which allowed us to freely move guys in and out so we could look at them at different positions and be a little more free in how we substitute guys on the mound,” Webber said.
There were also games designated as D2. For example, on the Saturday morning of the home tournament last weekend, Philomath had its youngest players in the lineup against Dallas.
Les & Bob’s got off to a good start by winning its first six games over opponents like South Albany, Sweet Home, South Salem, West Albany and West Salem. The team had some rough moments down the stretch and on Wednesday, had a wild end to the summer.
Playing at Lebanon in the second game of a doubleheader, the two teams went into extra innings. Philomath scored two runs in the top of the eighth to take a 7-5 lead but Lebanon came back in the bottom of the inning.
Les & Bob’s was clinging to a 7-6 lead when Lebanon loaded the bases. With two outs and Jake Williams on the mound, catcher Owen Heiken caught a Lebanon base runner halfway between home and third and fired to third baseman Skylar Brolin. The Lebanon player headed for home and Brolin threw the ball to Heiken, but the ball got away and the tying run scored.
While all of that was happening, Lebanon’s base runner that had been on second rounded third and had plans to score the game-winning run. However, Williams was backing up Heiken on the previous play, picked up the ball and threw it back to Heiken, who tagged out the runner to end the inning.
At that point with the game tied, 7-7, the day’s light had faded away and the two coaches decided to call it. Lebanon had won the earlier game, 12-3.
The biggest area of concern that came out of the summer season revolved around defense. Webber said he calculated that 60% of the runs that Philomath gave up were unearned.
“It goes to show you what we kind of need to focus on a bit going into next year,” Webber said. “But I thought our pitching for the most part did a really good job and I thought our offense did really well, too.”
As mentioned, Philomath did play the summer without the projected starters at shortstop and center field for next season — Ordway and Gerding.
In the season’s final stats, several players had batting averages in the .400 or better range — Ty May, Brolin, Chad Russell, Logan Matthews, Alek Russell, John McCombs, Brayden Shenk and Mason Stearns were among those who were up there, although some of them played in only a handful of games. Kash Linsey, David Griffith, Williams and Silas Barton also had their moments at the plate.
Webber experimented with a lot of different pitchers. Brolin had an impressive summer with a respectable ERA. Shenk was up there as well with those two throwing the most innings.
Moving forward, Webber believes participation numbers will look good next spring.
“I know all of our kids that played this year are planning on playing against next year so that’ll put us at around 19 or 20 and I think there are eight to 10 freshmen coming in to play and so I think our numbers will be back up,” Webber said. “I would say between 26 to 30, which is right around where I like it because it allows us to have 12 to 14 on varsity, depending on what we need, and then your JV roster doesn’t get too big so that it’s unmanageable.”
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