Photo by Ray Rodriguez
The Dufur Ranger baseball has a reloaded roster from last year’s Blue Mountain Conference champion and state semifinal-qualifying squad In the photo are, from left to right, starting in the back row, head coach C.S. Little, Matthew Sipe, Mercedes Waters, Russell Peters, Justin Eiesland, Joe Turk, Hagen Pence, Josiah Dove, Caleb Olson and Curtis Crawford. In the front row are, from left, Luis Gamboa, Seth Harvey, Jackie Culps, Jacob Peters, Parker Wallace and Kerish Waters. Not pictured are, Louis Red Cloud, Trevor Phetteplace, Jake Dollarhide and assistant coach Dean Dollarhide.
DUFUR – The Dufur Rangers were an inning away from clinching a state championship berth.
Now, without Kolbe Bales, Bailey Keever and Connor Uhalde, the Rangers are not conceding this season at all – they are even more driven to show what they are made of.
“We lost a lot of great seniors. They were leaders and did a lot of things that helped us last year,” said senior Curtis Crawford. “They left this program on a high note and now it is up to us to keep it going. We are young, but I think we are talented and we can have a good year.”
In a year of firsts, the Rangers had their high regular season ranking of No. 1 for the final two months of 2017, were the No. 1-seed entering state action, posted a program-best 24-2 record, and vaulted to their deepest postseason run in program history, the semifinals.
Bales earned Player of the Year honors in league and at the 2A level, and both Keever and Uhalde were popular in receiving postseason awards.
Hagen Pence (Infield) and Crawford (Outfield) were both second-team winners for their play, as Pence led the Rangers with 38 hits, including 10 doubles, two triples, a home run and an impressive .427 batting average.
He also was issued 13 walks, scored 25 runs, went 9 for 9 on stolen bases, and he posted a .519 on-base average and a .617 slugging percentage.
As a pitcher, Pence struck out 33, walked seven in 21 innings and went 2-1 with three saves.
Crawford had a .291 average with 20 runs scored, 23 RBIs, seven walks and 11 stolen bases, breaking through for the Rangers on offense and as the team’s starting centerfielder.
That duo is expected to fill out the middle of the order and will be surrounded by Louis Red Cloud, Russell Peters and newcomer, Justin Eiesland.
“I don’t think there is going to be much a drop off in offense,” said Dufur head coach C.S. Little.
“For the last couple of years, hitting has been our calling card and we have seen in here in practice. We have guys who can hit and bunt, and we have guys who can get on base. The only difference is we don’t have the same speed we had, so we will not come anywhere near the 120 or 130 bases we stole.”
Filling in the rest of the batting order, coach Little has 18 names he can possibly insert, such as Jackie Culps, Joe Turk, Parker Wallace, Kerish Waters, Caleb Olson, Jacob Peters, Mercedes Waters, Seth Harvey, Luis Gamboa, Jake Dollarhide, Matthew Sipe, Josiah Dave and Trevor Phetteplace.
“Because we don’t have the same type of pitching we had last year, I think offense is going to be more important,” Crawford said. “If we can score some runs and give our pitchers some support, we can win a lot of games.”
In 2017, Dufur doubled its win total from 2016, had a 61-run increase on offense and a decrease of runs allowed, going from 229 to 89.
With the departures of Josh Brown, Keever, Uhalde and Bales, many feel the Rangers will not be as formidable.
Eiesland likes what he has seen.
“This team has so much potential,” Eiesland said. “The first thing I feel is we are all together as a team. We all get along and we all push each other. We are going to be inexperienced and we won’t be tearing up everyone like we did last year, but we are going to give everything we have against any team we play. We want to show that we can be just as good as any out there. That starts with our first game.”
Dufur heads to Riverside for a non-league opener at 3 p.m. Tuesday and hosts Country Christian at 4 p.m. Thursday.