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The Observer Paper 11/26/14

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Experience laden

La Grande hungry to get back on the diamond with five seniors returning

Trial by fire. That’s what will be in store for the La Grande baseball team this season. With only three practices spent outside as of Tuesday, the Tigers will open the season Friday at Fruitland, Idaho. 

“It is what it is,” first-year head coach Parker McKinley said. “We’ve been able to do a lot of things inside, and that helps. But, there’s not really a substitute for being out on the field. The distances on the field, and the speed of everything is hard to reproduce in a gym.”

McKinley takes over for Mark Lanman, who coached La Grande for nine seasons. 

“It’s a great program to take over,” McKinley said. “Mark did such a good job here, it’s going to make the transition a little easier. Plus, the kids are used to success.”

Last season, the Tigers went 14-10 overall, and took second in the Greater Oregon League with a 9-3 record. La Grande fell to South Umpqua 6-5 in a Class 4A play-in game to end the season. 

La Grande lost three players to graduation, and all played significant roles for the Tigers. Kaleb White and Josh Gambill, and Garett Avila all ate up innings for La Grande. Avlia also spent time in the outfield, and added power at the plate.

McKinley is confident in the players he has coming in this season. And, he got to know them this summer. McKinley coached a majority of the team during the legion season, which will help the transition. 

“I was able to get a good sense of the players that were coming back,” McKinley said. “It’s always helpful to see players in game situations. I think it helped speed up the process for this spring.”

Around the infield, La Grande looks set. That’s aided by the return of five seniors — Tyson Wicklander, Trenton Powers, Jake Chamberlain, Tanner Stremtcha and Brandon Cederholm. With J.C. Rodgers, a junior, returning behind the plate, there will be little to worry about around the horn. 

“We have really high expectations for this season,” McKinley said. “A lot of that is in part to the experience we have coming back. It’s nice to have five seniors out on the field.

“J.C. had a great sophomore season, and having a solid catcher is crucial.”

While the infield is set, McKinley said the real position battles will be in the outfield. 

“The outfield is an area where we’re hoping to see some guys step up and take over those positions,” McKinley said. “We have guys that want to do it. It’s just a matter of being able to get out on the field and showing what they can do.”

Powers, Wicklander, Stremcha will see a lot of time on the hill. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Mitch Workinger will not be available on the mound this season. Workinger had surgery on his bicep, and will be healing throughout the spring. McKinley also said he’s hoping to get some innings out of Eli Childs this season.

“We’re happy with how our bullpens have come along,” McKinley said. “We threw live to hitters for the first time on Monday. It will come down to who is able to locate their pitches right now. That’s a lot different to throw off a mound in the gym, and then step out on the field.

“It was great to have the basketball team make the run into the playoffs, but at the same time it set us back. There are some guys that are practicing this week that we’d like to lean on. But, we’ll need to break them in slowly to avoid any injuries.”

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