Madras baseball looking for continuity

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Buffs aim to replicate 2016 postseason trip, make a deeper run.

PIONEER FILE PHOTO - Madras junior Lewis Fine (2) figures to play a prominent role as one of the Buffs' leaders this season after they graduated four key seniors after last year.
When the Madras baseball team reached a postseason game last season for the first time since 2013, the White Buffalos were determined to be more than a one-and-done team.

That 2016 team, which won five of its final six games before losing a play-in game to Cascade, featured a deep group of seniors in Tri-Valley Conference Player of the Year Bryce Rehwinkel, as well as all-TVC selections Austin Rauschenberg, Sean Leriche and Howard Bell-Raines. Those four have since graduated, but they left their mark on Madras in a way that built the program up for this year and beyond.

"Eventually all those kids saw that the idea of team is huge, and when we finally settle on that, we can start having the individual successes that we're after," said Madras head coach Sam McCormick, who is entering his fourth year in that role. "It was fun watching those guys grow, and I think a lot of the leadership and work ethic they instilled on these guys when they were sophomores carried over."

Now that those sophomores — Kanim Smith, Chad Thurby, Tyler Lockey, Lewis Fine, Cameron Rodriguez and Jared Holliday — have become upperclassmen, they've begun embracing their new roles transferred from last year's seniors.

"We just have to step up and be the leaders on this team now," Fine said. "We just have to have the confidence that we can get back (to the postseason) and know we can do it."

The Buffs return first-team TVC selections in Smith, a utility player who pitched, played third base and shortstop, and left-handed pitcher/outfielder Chad Thurby. They also return Lockey, who was an all-conference shortstop in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Smith was injured in the team's last game of the 2016 season when he and Leriche collided in shallow left field as both tried to make a play on a pop fly. Smith suffered a right knee injury, and wasn't cleared to play at full speed until the day of basketball tryouts last winter.

His recovery process has been a slow one, and although he'll be ready to go at the start of this season, he isn't 100 percent yet. Madras will need his power at the plate, as Smith batted .425 with 14 extra-base hits and 21 runs batted in last season.

"I'm all right, but not at my fullest yet," Smith said. PIONEER FILE PHOTO - The Buffs will need Kanim Smith to provide a steady bat once again after he hit .425 with 14 extra-base hits and 21 runs batted in last season. He sufferred a right knee injury in the last game of the 2016 season, and said he's still not 100 percent yet.

The bullpen is between five and six deep that will include Thurby and Smith, plus some combination of Lockey, Fine, Rodriguez, Holliday and sophomore Byron Patt. Senior Aaron Winishut could be in the mix, too.

The OSAA instituted a strict pitch count policy that was recommended in 2016, but is now required for the upcoming season. The rules state that players can throw no more than 110 pitches per day, and if they do reach that maximum number, they must take three days of rest and limit themselves to 25 pitches on the fourth day. Lesser numbers of pitches are broken down into different tiers that each require a certain number of days off as well.

Fortunately, McCormick said the Buffs are lucky to have a deep enough group of players who can play the infield and pitch. They will certainly have to get creative with lineups at times this season, but they have the depth to do so.

"They're all good enough where you can put them there and they'll make the plays, which is cool," McCormick said. "We don't take a huge step down if we shuffle the lineup up a bit."

For this current group of players and coaches, last season's run to that play-in game with Cascade was their first taste of the postseason. McCormick acknowledges that in his first two years as head coach — a 5-20 record in 2014 and 8-15 in 2015 — Madras didn't have much success.

But the Buffs have made incremental improvements each season as they learned the system. To continue on an upward path, the next step is to advance in the playoffs. The Buffs believe they have the team to do it.

"We're better than we have been in the past," McCormick said. "Guys are making routine plays, squaring up balls and talking to each other … There's a lot of retention on the way we do everything, so the initial part of teaching is out, and (now) we can just work on executing better."

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