The Indians summer league team batted .328 and averaged 8.3 runs a game, claiming fifth place and the sportsmanship award at the Oregon Junior State Baseball Associatin Division I state tournament.
Molalla baseball coach Todd Potter cant pinpoint exactly when the transformation happened.
Sometime between the start of the high school season in early March and the end of summer league play in late July, the Indians stopped being a young, inexperienced team that lacked confidence and struggled to score runs.
The Indians capped a successful summer season by winning three consecutive consolation games to claim fifth place at the Oregon Junior State Baseball Association Division I Championships, setting the stage for a potential breakout season next spring.
We definitely have grown a lot, which is exactly what we needed to do, Potter said. And, to be honest, weve even grown beyond my expectations some. I mean, we got to the end of summer league with some guys that were really dialed in and who we are really confident in right now.
I wanted to get to the state tournament and have our kids experience that. But then to go there and be able to win three consecutive games with our backs against the wall was a great experience, because thats something that should help our kids carry some confidence into next season.
Molallas personnel didnt change much once the high school season ended. The Indians graduated all-Tri-Valley Conference catcher Devon Schaefer and utility player Derek Free, but replaced them with Josey Swain, the transfer from Rex Putnam, along with incoming freshman Braden Hibbs, and Coltons Stoddard brothers -- Daniel and Robert.
In comparing the team that went 8-16 during the high school season to the one that went 12-5 against Junior State competition, the most noticeable difference was at the plate.
The high school team batted .250 and averaged 3.3 runs a game.
The summer team batted .328 and averaged 8.3 runs a game.
The Indians were particularly sharp offensively during the Junior State tournament. In four games, they batted .384 (48 for 125) with 14 doubles, a triple, a homer, and 43 runs scored.
And that was against good pitching and good teams, Potter said. Those are great statistics right there. It tells you a lot about how far weve come.
During the high school season, we really struggled to even get the ball in play sometimes once we got guys in scoring position. This summer, it was totally the opposite.
So, what changed?
Every game was like batting practice, said Austin Alexander, who batted .529 (9 for 17) in the state tournament. We were relaxed. There was no pressure. Coach always told us, Go up there and have fun. Its summer. Be relaxed.
So, we went up there and we just hit the ball. In the regular season, you could tell by the scores that we struggled hitting in some games. But this summer, if we got a guy on first, we bunted him over, and then got a base hit to the outfield and he scored. We executed the little things that helped us score more runs.
Potter said many of the improvements on offense were the result of repetition.
Finally, things weve been coaching them to do since January started kicking in, Potter said. And then when they had some success it was like, Oh, this is how it works. If I can just put the ball in play, good things are going to happen. And that was exactly our approach at the plate all summer.
Our goal was to be better at the end than we were at the beginning of summer league. The last two weeks, we played well. You look at our league record, we were 9-5 and Gladstone and Scappoose were both 10-4, so we were only one game out of first place. And Gladstone and Scappoose ended up playing for the Division I state title, so we were right there.
Molalla also earned the Junior State tournaments sportsmanship award.
Thats a reflection of what these kids do inside those fences, Potter said. We heard a lot of compliments about our kids being scrappy and playing the game the right way.
As a coach, thats what you want. We try to preach that, no matter what, play the game the right way and respect the game. Our kids did that and it got recognized by a lot of people.
Potter said it helped that the players were dedicated to the program, including those whose split their time between baseball, summer football, and other activities.
We had 16 kids on the roster and I cant tell you how many times 14 to 16 kids were at the games. Thats a great sign that were heading in the right direction. And then we had some of the Molalla Youth Sports kids coming to some of the games, which is all part of the building process.
We definitely saw major growth in our team from top to bottom. And I think the kids learned more about themselves and their team through this whole process.
Summer league leaders
Batting leaders (minimum 25 at-bats): Average: Josey Swain, .519; Andrew Sherwood, .414; Lucas Ellis, .391; Austin Alexander, .383; Kurt Potter, .364; Reed Aylett, .362; Will Schaefer, .356; Trevor Miles, .303; Keaton Franco, .300; Daniel Stoddard, .222; Aaron Alexander .188. Hits: Reed Aylett, 25; Lucas Ellis 25; Kurt Potter, 24; Austin Alexander, 18, Keaton Franco, 18; Will Schaefer, 16; Josey Swain, 14. Doubles: Reed Aylett, 8; Kurt Potter, 7; Keaton Franco, 6; Lucas Ellis, 3; Will Schaefer 3; Daniel Stoddard, 3. Triples: Josey Swain, 2; Reed Aylett, 1; Lucas Ellis, 1; Kurt Potter, 1. Home runs: Lucas Ellis, 1. RBIs: Reed Aylett, 24; Keaton Franco, 17; Will Schaefer, 16; Kurt Potter, 15; Lucas Ellis, 11; Austin Alexander, 10. Stolen bases: Austin Alexander, 7; Reed Aylett, 5; Daniel Stoddard, 4; Trevor Miles, 3; Will Schaefer, 3; Runs: Reed Aylett, 20; Kurt Potter 19; Lucas Ellis, 18; Austin Alexander, 17; Will Schaefer, 16; Keaton Franco, 14; Daniel Stoddard, 14.
Pitching leaders (minimum 10 innings pitched) Wins: Reed Aylett, 4; Aaron Alexander 3; Lucas Ellis, 2; Keaton Franco, 2; Josey Swain, 1. Saves: Kurt Potter, 4. Innings pitched: Keaton Franco, 32 1/3; Aaron Alexander, 24; Reed Aylett, 20; Kurt Potter, 17 2/3; Josey Swain, 13; Lucas Ellis 11 2/3. ERA: Josey Swain, 0.54; Kurt Potter, 2.85; Reed Aylett, 4.54; Aaron Alexander, 4.96; Keaton Franco, 6.05. Strikeouts: Aaron Alexander, 24; Keaton Franco, 24; Kurt Potter, 21; Reed Aylett, 16. Walks: Keaton Franco, 19; Aaron Alexander, 14; Lucas Ellis, 12; Reed Aylett, 11; Kurt Potter, 8.