2012 Preview: Baseball returnees include lot of young veterans

Sean C. Morgan

The Huskies are returning a strong core of players this year in baseball.

But while their sights are set high, it’ll be a tough road to the league championship, with Sisters and Elmira bringing back most of their state playoff players.

“We only have four back that are returning seniors,” said Coach Matt Matuszak said. The rest of the returning varsity lineup is younger but experienced, with the addition of four new seniors.

“We return quite a bit this year, nine kids that started four or more games,” Matuszak said. “We return seven regular varsity starters. We were very young last year, and we’ve got quite a bit of experience.”

Last year, the Huskies won their first playoff game since 1991 when they won their play-in game. They lost to Newport in the next round of playoffs.

“They’ve been working their butts off in the off season,” Matuszak said of his players. On Dec. 1, eight players were out on their own time working out for baseball.

“We just re-did our infield with the help of the Melchers,” Matuszak said. “There’s just a lot of excitement about baseball right now.”

Forty-one athletes tried out for the team, he said. That’s the most he is aware of. The team lost a couple who decided not to play, but he hasn’t cut any players.

Returning seniors are Cory Hanks, Kyle Winslow, Jeremy White and Hunter Bidwell. Returning juniors are Colton Holly, Nate Melcher, Justin Rice and Drayson Scott. Sophomore Austin Rice also returns.

New seniors include Brandon Gregory, who is moving up from JV, and Bret Adams, Ty Harvey and Glen Hesberg, who are new to the team.

“We’re really primed for a great season,” Matuszak said. “I feel we can compete with anybody.”

To make sure, Matuszak said, he has set up the toughest non-league games he can find.

“Our goal is to go in there and make a big dent in playoffs,” Matuszak said. “Our goal is to win the league championship, which will be tough.”

Sisters is the returning league champion. The Outlaws graduated three and bring back several all-league players, including the first-team all-league pitcher Shane Groth. Sisters, which had a 22-3 record, will be the team to beat. Groth went 5-1 for the Outlaws, with a 2.1 ERA, and recorded 57 strikeouts during league.

Elmira didn’t graduate any players and returns the Pitcher of the Year Travis Boggs, who won the honor as a sophomore in 2011.

Both Sisters and Elmira reached the quarterfinals of state playoffs.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, definitely, in league,” Matuszak said. Junction City, Cottage Grove and La Pine aren’t at the same level. He thinks it’ll come down to Sweet Home, Sisters and Elmira, but anything can happen.

“Those other teams are also good baseball schools,” Matuszak said. “They don’t return as much as we do, but you’ve gotta show up and compete against everybody. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”

On the mound, the Huskies will return Justin Rice, Hanks, White and Scott. All have varsity experience.

Cory Van Deusen will see time on the mound too, Matuszak said.

“Our pitching is going to be a strength this year,” he said. All of the pitchers have been working out and lifting weights.

Around the infield, Hanks will handle third base. Justin Rice, an all-league second-team infielder last year, and Scott will play the middle infield, and Winslow, who also was an all-league second-team selection as a junior, will return to first. Melcher will return at catcher.

Handling outfield duties will be White and Holly, both all-league first-team outfielders last year, Bidwell and Austin Rice, along with the other seniors.

Holly will start the year as designated hitter as he recovers from an injury, Matuszak said.

The team returns an all-league offense, Matuszak said. “We look awesome.”

The team lost top batters David Deggelman and Gavin Kauffman to graduation, “but I feel like we’ve got guys who’ll step up.”

Justin Rice and Scott have both been spending a lot of time in the cage and are batting well. White, Holly and Winslow are all-league players because of their bats.

Melcher and Hanks have another year of experience under their belts, and Austin Rice will bring speed and base-running skills.

“I feel like we’ve really improved our defense, which was a weak spot for us,” Matuszak said. The defense will be aided by lower batting performance in the game overall.

Oregon has gone to new, softer-hitting bats, Matuszak said. Colleges across the United States went to them last year to decrease the speed of balls hit off the bat.

“It almost feels like we’re playing with wooden bats,” Matuszak said. It means low-scoring games. There won’t be as many home runs or even doubles into the gap.