After back-to-back playoff berths, The Dalles baseball team posted more wins overall and in league action, scored 35 more runs and allowed 38 fewer runs, but had a 2-8 record in matchups decided by two runs or less, including an 0-5 mark in league contests.
“I think we got kind of snake bitten a little bit this year,” TD head coach Steve Sugg said. “If we get a few breaks here or there, maybe we are sitting in second and maybe even first place in league. To lose six games by one run is hard to swallow, but it just shows them how they just need to go that extra step, go that extra mile and get over the hump, and then next year, we win those games instead of losing them.”
Although the Hawks (8-17 overall, 5-10 league) placed fifth in the six-team Intermountain Conference, five players earned all-league honors, led by second-team winners Dalles Seufalemua and Ben Nelson, and honorable mention recipients, Dominic Smith, Michael Armstrong and Baily Hajicek.
Seufalemua, a first teamer as a sophomore in 2018, was saddled with a hamstring injury through the first half of the season, but still managed to play in all 25 games.
The cleanup hitting first baseman led the team in extra base hits (nine with one home run), slugging percentage (.532) and RBIs (22) and posted a .380 batting average (30 for 79).
He scored 15 runs, had 11 walks, struck out 10 times with an on-base average of .457 and a .455 split with runners in scoring position.
From his first base spot, Seufalemua committed seven errors and was third on the team with a .942 fielding percentage.
Since he had high acclaim as a sophomore, Seufalemua attained a valuable baseball lesson of learning how to be more patient and selective at the plate, while taking what the opposing pitchers give him.
Sugg said he spoke with Seufalemua about his patience at the plate, especially because other teams pitched around him all year.
“They knew he was one of our big guns and they weren’t going to give him anything that he could turn on, so they pitched him away and away,” Sugg said. “He had very few walks, so when he got two strikes on him, he got impatient and swung at some bad pitches, which in turn, affected his average. That’s a maturity thing. I think the more games he plays, the more disciplined he’ll get. He has definitely got to be more patient and he also has to be ready to pull the trigger early when he does get that first good pitch.”
Nelson, a second team winner as a sophomore last season, played in 24 games and led the team in six offensive categories.
He led TD with 33 hits, a .418 average (33 for 79), a .466 on-base percentage, 22 runs scored, 14 stolen bases on 14 attempts, and hit .458 with runners in scoring position.
The shortstop drove in 11 runs, a .519 slugging average and finished tied for the team lead with just seven strikeouts.
“Ben started off the year playing extremely well. He was hitting over .500 at one point,” Sugg said. “He was leader on this team, and he got things going from the leadoff spot in the order. As he went, we kind of went. When he got on base and was hitting the ball, we were a tough team to beat. As all hitters do, he kind of went through a stretch there where he was hitting the ball right at people. I kind of wish he would have hit .500 towards the end of the year instead of at the beginning of the year, but that’s the way it goes in baseball.”
Out in the field, Nelson had an .873 fielding percentage (eight errors).
On the mound, Nelson went 2-3 with a save in 29 2/3 innings pitched with 36 strikeouts and 18 walks over 14 appearances.
The right-hander had a 5.43 earned run average and opponents hit .243 off him.
“He did an awesome job pitching late in games for us,” Sugg added. “If we were able to get a lead for him, we knew we could rely on him to close games out.”
On April 19 at Bob Williams Field, Armstrong tossed a perfect game against Ridgeview.
The junior right-hander stymied the Ravens to the tune of six strikeouts on 60 pitches in a 16-0 mercy-ruled victory.
Overall, Armstrong amassed a 5-6 record in a team-leading 17 starts on with eight quality starts.
Across his 44 2/3 innings, the junior right-hander allowed 34 runs, 20 earned, on 33 hits with a team-high 49 strikeouts and 48 walks.
Opponents managed a .199 batting average against Armstrong, and he totaled two errors from his pitching and right field positions (.929).
“Mikey showed that he could be a dominant pitcher on the mound. He’s right there,” Sugg said. “He had a good season, but he just has to develop a little more consistency. He’s a guy that will strike two guys out and then will walk the next four guys, so he’s got to learn to believe in his mechanics and be more consistent. He’s got the tools. He’s a big, strong kid, and he has a good arm, but consistency is definitely the key for him.”
Hajicek, the lone senior to grab all-league honors, used his speed and athleticism to help his pitching staff, as he made acrobatic diving catches and had an accurate arm to keep base runners honest.
In 25 games, he made three errors for a .932 fielding percentage.
As the No. 2 hitter in the order, Hajicek went 17 of 79 for a .215 batting average with 18 runs scored, six RBIs and eight stolen bases on eight tries.
He received nine walks, struck out 14 times, and tallied a .300 on-base average, a .241 slugging percentage and hit .241 with runners in scoring position.
“Baily did a great job for us,” Sugg said. “He has been an infielder his whole life, but we moved him to the outfield due to his quickness and he played a really good centerfield for us. He covered a lot of ground in the outfield. There was a point in the season, where he was one of our hottest hitters. He was hitting well over .300 and was really hitting the ball well. He was an unselfish player and a good leader, so it’s good to see him get some recognition in his final year.”
Smith made his presence known as a sophomore last season, as he totaled 23 hits in 71 at-bats (.324), scored 11 runs, drove in 10, walked seven times and struck out 14 times in 80 plate appearances to pick up a first-team award.
This season, the right-handed junior third baseman posted a .343 average on 24 for 70 with 12 runs and 17 RBIs.
He received seven walks, was hit by a pitch a team-high eight times and ended up with a .459 on-base percentage, a .429 slugging average and hit .361 with runners in scoring position.
As an infielder, catcher and pitcher, Smith committed six errors and notched a .903 fielding percentage with 27 putouts and 29 assists.
“Coming off first-team last year, Dom struggled a little bit,” Sugg said. “He showed what kind of ballplayer he could be as a sophomore, so I am looking forward to seeing him continuing to work on different parts of his game to improve. We all know what he is capable of and it will be up to him to put this season behind him and become a better all-around player and team leader.”
At the start of camp, The Dalles had 25 players in the program, but it’s looking more and more like there will be a huge influx of between 18 to 20 incoming freshmen competing for playing time in 2020, joining the group of seven incoming upperclassmen.
“Dom and Dalles played varsity as freshmen, so next year will be their fourth year on varsity,” Sugg said. “Those two guys should carry us just with their experience alone. I think by not making the playoffs this year and underachieving the way we did, I hope it woke these guys up a little bit and made them realize that they are not as good as they think they are. They got to take that next step if they want to reach the goals that they set for themselves.”