The Philomath High School baseball team appears to have the tools in place to make a serious run at the Oregon West Conference title this season. Veteran coach Levi Webber has an experienced roster that includes more options than ever at pitcher with solid players in both the infield and outfield. The Warriors also have a high ceiling at the plate with bats that can go deep or hit for average.
Philomath comes into the season with seven seniors on the roster. Seniors Skylar Brolin, Logan Carter, Cameron Ordway, Blake Niemann, Alek Russell and Jacob Williams were all regular starters. And the seventh senior couldn’t play because he was recovering from a football injury.
“We have a very experienced group coming back, not to mention we get a kid back that we didn’t have last year in Carson Gerding, which will be huge to throw him into the mix,” Webber said. “I think he was the one piece we were away from being that league title champion.”
The Warriors finished 8-4 in league games — just one game out of first — and 9-8 overall.
Other returning starters include juniors Ty May and David Griffith.
Webber appears to have one of his deepest pitching staffs in years. Brolin returns after serving as the No. 1 pitcher last season. In seven starts, he had a 3-3 record, 3.18 earned run average and 52 strikeouts. Brolin held opposing batters to a mere .194 batting average and he had one-hitters in two of his starts.
“We’re hoping to have a good spring out of him,” Webber said. “He was pretty strong for us last year.”
Ordway, who came on toward the end of last season, will also pitch when he’s not at shortstop. He had four starts and four relief appearances and in 31 innings, struck out 47, had a 2.94 ERA and finished with a 5-0 record. May, Griffith, Gerding and junior Brayden Shenk are the other primary options on the mound.
“We’re going to have probably six or seven guys that can pitch that you feel pretty good about,” Webber said. “There’s not a big drop-off from one to the last — they’re all pretty good and we’re expecting a lot of really good things out of all of them.”
Carter returns at catcher for the Warriors with junior Silas Barton backing him up. Barton has a decent bat and will likely see time in other parts of the field as well, Webber added.
“He did a good job with our pitchers last year and handled them well,” Webber said about Carter. “He did a good job receiving and blocking and we’re hoping to see a little more out of him offensively this year and more growth behind the plate.”
Going around the infield, May, who hit .443 last season, returns at first base with junior Chad Russell backing him up. Sophomore Kash Lindsey could be in the mix for time there as well. At second, Griffith returns and then Ordway, who hit .483 last season, will again hold down shortstop, a spot where he’s been since his freshman year. When Ordway pitches, Griffith could move over or sophomore Mason Stearns could get some time.
Webber’s biggest question mark heading into the season is over at third base. Williams had been penciled in but he suffered an off-the-field injury and could miss a good portion of the season. Brolin will likely be at third when not pitching and when he is on the mound, Stearns could be the one holding it down.
Stearns has been battling a health issue since last fall but Webber said he’s focused on getting cleared to play baseball.
“Mason’s getting better, he’s been out here every day,” Webber said. “He’s a little bit limited right now in what he can do but he’s out here and he’s expecting to get full release at some point — probably within the next couple of weeks hopefully. It’s just good to see him out here being a kid again.”
In the outfield, Gerding’s return will put him in center field.
“He’s a good athlete — played all summer over at T. Gerding, the Legion program over in Corvallis,” Webber said. “He’s going to do just fine and he’s going to swing it. It’ll be nice to have him back at the top of the order and out in center field.”
At the corner positions, Alek Russell returns to left field where he’s been a proven, solid defender and was a .442 hitter last season. Niemann saw a lot of time in right last season and he returns. And Shenk could be a player that sees time in either left or right.
“Pretty athletic crew that can move around and do some things,” Webber said of his outfielders. “We’re excited about those guys.”
The program as a whole has 33 players signed up heading into the season — 17 of which are freshmen.
“Our freshman class is ridiculously huge. I think we have the highest number since I’ve been here, which is a good problem to have,” Webber said, although he added that there can be challenges when it comes to getting that many players time on the field.
The Warriors open the season Wednesday at Gladstone, the start of a challenging nonconference schedule.
“I may have gone a little overboard with some of the competition we’ve got but we’re definitely going to know where we stand,” Webber laughed.
Following the opener, Philomath comes home to play Henley on Friday. Then it’s off to the Newport Spring Break Tournament next week where the Warriors will face Crescent Valley, Dallas and Astoria. Other nonleague games have been set up with Hidden Valley (in Cottage Grove), Banks, La Grande and Baker — those last few added after it was announced that Woodburn wouldn’t be fielding a team this season.
Gladstone, Henley, Hidden Valley, Banks, La Grande and Baker won a combined 79 games last season. Hidden Valley won last season’s state title with La Grande finishing as the runner-up. Then there’s two 5A opponents in Crescent Valley, an 11-game winner last season, and Dallas.
Webber’s assistant coaching staff this season will be JJ Faxon and Logan Hansen with the varsity while Nicholas Dudek, Nolan Jackson and Ron Morella work with the younger players. Lance Faxon left the program to take over as head coach at Cottage Grove.