A million Bucks?
No, but it must feel like that to St. Paul head coach Dwayne Nowlin on practice days.
The 1A public school, eight miles from Newberg, has 102 kids, total, in grades 9-12. Of the school’s 50 boys, 31 – more than 60 percent! -- signed up for baseball. That’s a lot of Bucks!
“I’ve always been around 24-25,” noted the fourth-year coach. “I’ve never had 31 boys sign up.”
Six of those who came out, including a senior, had NEVER played before.
What’s the secret driving participation in a sport perceived by many young people to be too slow paced and boring?
One word: fun.
The newcomers told Nowlin, “We want to play baseball. All the other guys said it is so much fun!”
“We make sure the kids are doing things during practice,” Nowlin said. “We call it ‘Rapid Fire.’ Everybody is doing something all the time. Nobody is standing around watching.”
Utilizing the school’s two fields, including the sparkling new one built five years ago, after Rapid Fire, the team splits in half.
“We have 15 boys doing the same drills on either field,” Nowlin explained. “Halfway through we switch. We keep them busy. On days we don’t have practice, I’ll open the cage and 25 boys show up even though it’s not mandatory. That makes me feel good.”
The remarkable turnout is not the result of a deep-rooted baseball tradition at the school. Before Nowlin arrived, the Bucks had never won a 2A/1A playoff baseball game. Now, four years later, after a 9-4 Covid year in which St. Paul lost only to two powerhouse teams, Kennedy and Western Christian, which went a combined 30-6, St. Paul has started this season 2-0. That includes a 10-6 victory over Western Christian.
Nowlin says the credit belongs to the school’s boosters, who built the facility; and the city’s youth program.
“St. Paul youth baseball is amazing,” Nowlin said. “They do amazing things with the younger kids out there.”
One of the things the youth program focuses on is teaching every player to pitch. Nowlin thinks that may be the “secret sauce” for the varsity’s success going forward in a league where you play one league game on Tuesday followed by a Friday doubleheader.
“We have to have lots of kids that can pitch,” Nowlin explained. “That pitch count kills you. I have 15 varsity kids and 12 of them can pitch. That’s thanks to the youth program.”
Not only is St. Paul the only 1A school in its area, it is one of just five 1A schools statewide currently fielding stand-alone baseball teams. The other three public schools are a combined 0-5. Meanwhile, St. Paul has a full varsity team experiencing success and a full JV team as well.
“I’m having a heckuva time finding JV games because most of the 2A schools around here don’t have JV teams,” Nowlin said.
St. Paul also offers track and field in the spring. That hasn’t impacted baseball attendance, because athletes can participate in both sports concurrently. Nowlin said 5-6 boys are doing both this year.
What are the expectations for St. Paul baseball this year and beyond.
“Nobody ever expects anything from us because we’re 1A,” Nowlin explained. “I think we’re in the toughest league in the state, but I expect us to make it to the playoffs and win some playoff games.”
St. Paul is known for 8-man football and the rodeo.
If Nowlin and 60 percent baseball participation have any say, the city may soon become known for baseball, too.
Umpqua Valley Christian, a private Christian school, is the only other 1A program experiencing early-season success. The Monarchs, who were 12-5 last year, currently stand 3-2 after tough losses to powerhouse Kennedy and 5A North Bend.
UVC also is experiencing robust participation. Of the school’s 78 students, 22 boys are out for baseball.
“We have a lot of baseball guys at our school,” said coach Dave York. “Those baseball guys really encourage all their friends to come out and are very supportive of guys who have never played before. The culture of UVC baseball is about learning to be humble, coachable teammates. UVC and our families thru the years have been very supportive of our baseball program.”
Shutout shout out to Kennedy
Kennedy was tabbed pre-season No. 1 in the 2A/1A OSAAtoday Baseball Coaches Poll and the Trojans are living up to the hype. They have started 4-0. Every win has come by shutout.
What makes the fast start even more remarkable is the quality of the competition so far. The wins have come against Bandon (3-2 in 2022), Scio (pre-season No. 5 in 3A), Knappa (pre-season No. 2 in 2A/1A)and UVC (pre-season No. 6 in 2A/1A).
“We have thrown strikes and played solid defense so far…and if we continue to do that we will have a good shot to have a nice season,” noted head coach Kevin Moffatt. “We have pretty good pitching depth. Ethan Kleinschmit , Andrew Cuff and Luke Beyer have all been sharp this year. All three guys don’t get rattled too easily. It helps when we play good defense behind them”
In the four games that Kennedy has played, the team’s pitchers have walked just seven batters while fanning 38. Kennedy should be even better on the mound when senior Riley Cantu, the league basketball POY; returns from an injury he suffered during the state tournament a few weeks ago. Add Brian Beyer and Matt Hopkins, who have also thrown well, and the Trojans have an embarrassment of riches on the bump.
Moffatt said that Kleinschmit, a 6-0 senior righty, “has a shot to be as good a pitcher as I have coached.” Pure stuff, however, is only one aspect of what makes the team’s pitching so good.
Defense and throwing strikes have been the staples of the program, Moffatt explained.
“We only have two errors, which is really rare and certainly makes life easier for our pitchers,” Moffatt said. “We have given up nine hits on the year. It also helps when you have a good catcher who understands the game. Charlie Beyer has been really good back there."
Well, that’s pretty good…
Dufur / South Wasco County, the pre-season No. 4 team in 2A/1A, has almost matched Kennedy’s scorching start. The Rangers are 3-0 on the season and have outscored their opponents, 30-1.
“We’ve had great pitching,” noted head coach CS Little. “The team is senior dominated with much experience.”
Brock LaFaver and Carson Smith have been the firecrackers on the hill so far for Dufur. Isaac Anthony has yet to pitch and will be a definite factor. All are seniors and the reason the Rangers, who received two first-place votes in the pre-season poll, should compete well all season long in 2A/1A.
Max effort for Corvallis
Corvallis is off to a 3-1 start to the 2022 season. The Spartans opened with a 10-0, five-inning win over South Albany in which junior Max Gregg tossed a perfect game, striking out 10 while throwing just 57 pitches. Senior Garrett Holpuch followed that up with five shutout innings and 10 Ks in a 7-1 win over Crescent Valley, the No. 3 team in 5A according to the OSAAtoday Pre-season Coaches Polls.
Gregg, who stands 6-5 and weighs 200 pounds, is the son of head coach Kevin Gregg, who pitched in the major leagues for 13 seasons. Asked how his son compares to him at the same age, Gregg answered like this:
“He has a way better understanding of himself and the game than I did at his age. He is a complete pitcher for sure. I was a hard thrower still trying to figure out how my body was moving.
“It is fun to watch him put it all together. He works very hard to understand all aspects of the game, i.e., pitch sequence, batter tendencies and reading swings. He has also been working hard in the weight room and plyometrics to learn his body.”
Jesuit, Thurston, Hidden Valley, Brookings-Harbor and Kennedy all were pre-season No. 1’s in their respective classifications in the OSAAtoday Baseball Coaches Polls.
How are they doing early in the season?
6A No. 1 Jesuit is 5-0 and has outscored its opponents, 51-4, so far.
5A No. 1 Thurston is 3-1. The Colts recovered from a blowout loss to Willamette in the first game of a double header to return the favor in the second game.
4A No. 1 Hidden Valley is 5-0, has outscored opponents, 53-6, and is looking every bit as dominant as last year, when the Mustangs were 18-0.
One of the win came over 3A No. 1 Brookings-Harbor, a game we reported here: https://www.osaa.org/today/article/2655/view?title=Baseball%3A+%E2%80%9CGame+of+thrones%E2%80%9D+goes+to+Hidden+Valley.
Brookings-Harbor was 2-0 going into the game and 18-0 over the past two years. The Bruins lost again later the next day, to 2A/1A Glide, 8-6, and is now 3-2 on the year. Glide, the defending state champions and the pre-season No. 3 2A/1A team, was 0-3 heading into that game, but the Wildcats prevailed behind the strong pitching of sophomore Bryce Swain. Swain pitched into the seventh inning and yielded just seven hits while fanning seven. Colby Bucich kick-started the offense with a 4-for-4 day at the plate.
Finally, as noted above, 2A/1A No. 1 Kennedy, which lost to Glide, 11-6, in last year’s culminating week state tournament, is 4-0, all by shutout.
Odds and ends…
Knappa, which won its first 14 games last season, with a roster than had just one senior, has started 1-3 this year. After losing to Kennedy to start the year, the Loggers went 1-2 in Arizona over spring break. A severe lack of practice time – the school’s field has been unplayable since summertime and probably won’t be playable all season, relegating the Loggers to the cement play shed so far -- might account for the slow start, but look for the Loggers again to dominate the Northwest League once again. Knappa has won the league for the past decade, going 127-3 over that span…The Loggers open league play this year on Tuesday at “home” versus Portland Christian. Head coach Jeff Miller said he is hopeful of using Astoria’s turf field or nearby Clatskanie as fall back options for his talented team…
Sophomore Carter Northrop went 5 for 6 with five singles, two RBIs, two runs and an astounding eight walks in the first four games of the season for Amity. Word gets around when you can rake…Rogue River hired an alumnus to lead its baseball team just a month before play began. He is Derek Nelson, a three-sport athlete at the school and an All-State baseball player who graduated in 2019. The Chieftains have started 1-3…
Scott McDonald is in his second year leading the Crescent Valley Raiders after 19 years as head coach at Dallas. The teams opened their seasons against one another on March 15, with CV prevailing, 11-0, on a one-hitter from senior right hander Garrett Bozdeck…La Pine captured 3A titles in 2018 and 2019. Only Teagen DeForest remains from the 2019 team, but he will likely miss most or all of the season recovering from a football injury. La Pine has started this season 2-1. The Hawks are ranked fourth in the 3A pre-season coaches poll…
South Medford, off to a 4-0 start, sits atop the 6A power rankings. The Panthers defeated Crater, 5-2, on Tuesday thanks to strong work from sophomore Kyle Cope, who retired the first 13 Comets he faced in order. This, while watching his ball cap fly from his head pitch after pitch…