There may be numerous new faces in the HRV varsity baseball team dugout this season, but their goals are no different than past years: do well in league play, qualify for the playoffs, make it to the state championship game.
This year’s squad aims to continue the trend of high-performing baseball teams the school has enjoyed the past several years. Since the Columbia River Conference era began in 2011, the Eagles have qualified for a play-in game or made the state playoffs outright every year. For the past two seasons, the Eagles have finished first in the conference. Since the 2014 season, HRV has made it to the title game at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer. And in 2015, the Eagles won their first baseball state championship in 25 years.
There’s not many athletes left from that championship team — senior catcher Adam Cameron is the lone athlete still on the team who started for the Eagles in the 2015 season — and HRV lost a great deal of talented seniors at the end of the 2016 season. But despite all of that, this year’s squad isn’t young, with all but two athletes from the class of 2017 and 2018. They’re not short on talent either and Erich Harjo, who is returning for his eighth season as head coach, believes his team has what it takes to make the trip down to Keizer for the fourth consecutive season.
“I think we have the ability to do that… I see us going as far as we have been,” he said.
Harjo expressed confidence in his deep bullpen consisting of seasoned pitchers like senior Isaiah Enriquez and junior Connor Coerper, as well as freshman Greyson Losee — not to mention others who can step up if necessary. That well of pitching talent Harjo can draw from will be more important than usual this season, as the OSAA, at the behest of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), has instituted a new rule that requires rest days for pitchers based on the number of pitches thrown in a game, with no player allowed to exceed 110 in a contest.
“We feel really good about our pitching staff again. That’s something that we work really hard on,” he noted, adding that he did not “foresee a challenge for us,” regarding the new pitching rule. “That’s been a staple of ours: consistency of pitching.”
As far as fielding was concerned Harjo said the team was strong up the middle but still “a little questionable on the corners and the outfield” as the team works out the early-season kinks — difficult to do since the weather has proven to be an “organizational nightmare.” He added that he felt “pretty confident” about the hitting abilities of his first six batters in the lineup and will continue to work with the seven-eight-nine hitters to strengthen the team.
As for the other teams in the conference, Pendleton is expected to be the biggest competition for the Eagles again this season, with Harjo mentioning the Bucks would be bringing back plenty of athletes from the previous season. The Dalles and Hermiston have “a lot of new kids, like us,” Harjo said, noting that Hermiston was “a wildcard” and “relatively young,” having graduated numerous seniors from last year. According to the online OSAA rosters, Hermiston has the fewest number of seniors in the conference, with four.
The Eagles will kick off their league schedule with a doubleheader against Hermiston April 15 in Hood River after opening the season with a slate of nine nonleague games.
HRV’s bats were hot Tuesday night in the team’s home opener in The Dalles (moved from Hood River due to weather and field conditions), with the Eagles racking up nine hits on their way to an 8-1 drubbing of the 6A Barlow Bruins. They gave the few The Dalles players in the audience who were watching the Eagles plenty to think about as the Riverhawks did some early-season scouting of their league rivals.
Barlow only briefly had the lead, scoring a run in the top of the first off a ground ball single. The Bruins didn’t get to celebrate for long, though, as HRV quickly loaded the bases after Barlow walked Morgan Williams and committed two errors. Coerper (2-for-3, single, double, two RBI) capitalized on the Bruins’ mistakes, hitting a fly ball double to left field that scored Casey Ward and then Morgan Williams for what would prove to be the game-winner. Coerper didn’t stay on base long, sent home courtesy of a line-drive double hit by Enriquez (3-for-4, single, two doubles, two RBI) to center field that also scored Cameron (1-for-3, single).
Barlow struggled to get much going throughout the game and had trouble picking up bases, as the HRV’s fielders went to work on the pitches with which the Bruins were able to make contact. Caden Leiblein (2-for-3, singles) helped put the game even further out of reach for the Bruins with his three-RBI performance, hitting a single in the bottom of the third that drove home Enriquez and followed that up with a two-run single in the bottom of the next inning that plated Williams and Cameron. Leiblein also scored on an error that followed a ground ball hit by Losee in the third.
Enriquez started the game and got the win for HRV on the mound, striking out three batters while giving up four hits, one run, and walking two. With the game under control, Harjo took the opportunity to go through his bullpen, as well as managing pitch count, subbing in Trevor Lariza (four strikeouts, three walks) at the top of the fourth and Trenton Hough (four strikeouts, two walks) in the top of the sixth.
Harjo remarked that he saw “a very anxious and a very aggressive team at the plate,” Tuesday evening that was very productive on offense against the bigger school. He lauded the defense as well, especially considering the lack of outdoor practices this season, adding “that was like the fourth time we’ve been on the field.”
The boys hosted the 6A Gresham Gophers Thursday evening at Traner Field in a game that was to be played at Gresham, originally, and lost 12-4 in a contest that was much closer than the result indicates. The two teams went back and forth throughout the first five innings and were knotted at 4-4 at the top of the sixth, when the Gophers erupted for eight unanswered runs over the final two innings of the game to get the win. Gresham had 16 hits to HRV’s six.
Williams had the most productive night for the Eagles at the plate, going 2-for-3 (single, double) and Leiblein had a two-run homer (1-for-2) that tied the game up in bottom of the fourth. JJ Mears (1-for-1, single), Ward (1-for-4, single), and Cameron (1-for-2, double, RBI) also had hits for HRV.
Harjo went even deeper into his bullpen Thursday, playing five pitchers in the game, starting with Connor Coerper, who threw three innings, during which he gave up five hits, two earned runs, and a walk while striking out four batters. Mears then went in for fourth and fifth innings, Lariza pitched the sixth, and Trenton Hough and Leiblein were on the mound for less than an inning each, finishing off the game.
The Eagles were scheduled to travel to Wilsonville Friday (results not available at press time), then host Sandy on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.