Huskies remain on top in 4A
North Marion baseball pitching staff succeeds by committee
North Marion baseball coach Randy Brack felt himself getting upset with pitcher Jordan Kendall for giving up too many free bases.
But after the Huskies finished off an 8-1 victory over Molalla at home Wednesday to sweep their first two-game series of the regular season, Brack was able to put the juniors performance in perspective.
Kendall, after all, had thrown a complete game with eight strikeouts while giving up just two hits and one run.
It seemed like he walked 14 because were not used to walking four guys, Brack said. So four seemed like a lot. But most high school pitchers would be glad to only walk four guys. Ive become accustomed to the walks staying down.
For Brack, the skills of Kendall and the rest of his teams pitching staff go a long way in explaining North Marions remarkable run to start the season.
Entering a key two-game series against La Salle Prep, which was slated to begin Tuesday, the Huskies (12-1, 2-0 in the Tri-Valley Conference) own the No. 1 ranking in Class 4A as they seek to defend their league title and make a run in the state playoffs.
And even though North Marions lineup features the reigning conference player of the year (Kyle Williamson), the 2013 league pitcher of the year (Brock Breshears) and an all-state honoree (Tristan Wampole), Brack said he was surprised by his teams success during a formidable nonconference slate that featured several opponents from the two largest athletic classifications.
With the preseason schedule that we put together, it was totally unexpected, he said. Record-wise, were much better than I thought we would be at this time. Playing-wise, weve still got plenty of room for improvement. We do a lot of things well, but nothing great. That gives us a chance to be in position to win games, but we do still have room for improvement.
The Huskies havent simply obliterated their opponents, but Brack is encouraged by his players poise in close games. Theyve logged five wins by two runs or fewer, including one-run triumphs over Lakeridge, Tillamook and Astoria in their final three preseason games.
Thanks in part to Kendall and Breshears as well as fellow pitchers Emry Patterson and Hunter Beachy, North Marion is giving up an average of just 2.4 runs per game.
We dont have anybody who has overpowering stuff, but weve got four pitchers who have been in the strike zone and changed speeds and found ways to get hitters out, Brack said. Theyre giving themselves a chance. And theyve got good defense behind them.
The dynamic is much different now than it was in 1971, when the Huskies relied heavily on Gary Hopkins to win their first and, so far, only state title in school history under then-coach Junior Sato.
Hopkins threw a no-hitter in the championship game that year as part of a 3-0 win over Sherwood.
We just put a saddle on him and rode him, said Brack, who was a member of North Marions state-title squad. Back in those days, you could do that. He was just a dominating pitcher. That was basically a staff of one.
We dont have that. Now, we spread the pitching out a lot. ... But these guys are smart enough to know their fastball isnt the most powerful, so its, I better keep it down, keep it away, throw a breaking ball, throw a change. We just pitch smart.
In the Huskies first conference game, a 9-1 win over Molalla on the road April 7, Breshears (5-0) gave up just one walk in seven innings to remain undefeated on the mound.
North Marion was locked in a 1-1 tie through four innings but pulled away by plating three runs in the fifth frame, four in the sixth and one in the seventh. It was the programs eighth league-opening victory in the last nine seasons.
Two days later, the Huskies swung for a season-high 11 hits to complete their two-game sweep of Molalla (4-6, 0-2). Their offensive onslaught featured three-straight doubles by Williamson, Patterson and junior Shane McKillip to start the evening.
As for how North Marion is handling its success, Brack said his team knows to expect an all-out effort from each opponent but added that it must avoid getting caught up in rankings with so much of the league season remaining.
We try to keep everything even-keel, Brack said. The bulls-eye gets a little bit bigger, and youve got to be ready to play whoever because they want to beat you. Everybody in the league is coming for us. Hopefully, we keep things in perspective.