Weather permitting, Lane eyes playoff run

04/05/2010 09:38

By Chris Hansen
The Register-Guard

Inclement weather has wreaked havoc on the Lane Community College baseball team for the past several weeks.

The Titans have had games cancelled, such as Saturday’s league doubleheader against Mount Hood in Gresham. They’ve had games postponed from one day to the next, and too often, they’ve been forced inside for practice, taking to the hardwood floors of the LCC gymnasium for drills instead of their usual grass field.

“The last three weeks of practice have killed us,” Lane coach Rob Strickland said. “Just a disaster. We have areas we’ve needed to work on but can’t. But we’ve been doing this for years.”

When his team does get to play, however, Strickland likes what he sees from the Titans, who are 10-6 overall and 1-1 in the South Region of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.

“I have never had this much depth,” said Strickland, who is in his 14th season overall at Lane and seventh as head coach. “From top to bottom, I’ve never been this solid.”

And he hopes that means a return to the postseason, once an annual destination for the Titans, who made the NWAACC tournament every year from 1997-2006 but not since.

After back-to-back losing seasons in 2007 and 2008, Lane finished 25-23 overall last season and finished in a tie with Chemeketa for third in the South Region at 15-15, just one game out of second place and the league’s final playoff spot.

“This team is better than last year’s team in all areas,” Strickland said. “But our league is also good. Every year 15 teams have a legitimate chance to win the NWAACC championship. It’s really competitive.”

Pitching will keep the Titans in the race this season, Strickland said.

“Depth in the bullpen is my only concern, otherwise, our pitching staff has been outstanding,” Strickland said.

Through 16 games, Lane has a team ERA of 2.86 and has already recorded three shutouts, the last of which was thrown by starter Scott Allred in a 4-0 win against Chemeketa on Thursday, as the Titans split their league-opening doubleheader.

Allred gave up just six hits in the outing and lowered his ERA to 2.25. The sophomore transfer from Roseburg went 8-3 with a 1.31 ERA for Linn-Benton in 2008 but sat out last season before deciding he wanted to play again, Strickland said.

“He’s just a pure competitor,” Strickland said. “He knows how to pitch. He’s fantastic.”

Sophomores Reed Nicholson (1.32 ERA) and Josh Orr (2.01) have also been consistently stingy for the Titans, and freshman Cory McEvoy, who was cut from the Oregon baseball team last fall, has 17 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings of relief.

“Our starters are proven,” Strickland said. “We have had only one bad start this year and there have been only a handful of games where we didn’t play defense or hit well, and it killed us because we had the pitching.”

Strickland said the Titans need to show improvement on offense as they head into the heart of the schedule, particularly “moving runners up, getting on base, getting timely hits.”

Lane is hitting .266 as a team, and Strickland said that needs to be closer to .280 if the Titans want to be a playoff team.

Freshman catcher Joe Offer from West Linn is the team leader in RBIs with 10 and is hitting .292 overall and .438 with runners in scoring position. Sophomore outfielder Andrew Schumacher, a former Churchill High School standout, leads the team with 16 hits and 10 runs scored.

Infielder Kyle Hoover, infielder Matt Myrmo and pitcher/first baseman Chris Reed, a trio of freshmen from Thurston, are heating up and have accounted for 16 runs in the last five games.

“We have kids who can bang it around a little bit,” Strickland said. “We just need to be more consistent against good pitching.”

Strickland would have liked a shot at South Region leader Mount Hood this past weekend to see what the Titans could do against a team ranked 10th by the American Baseball Coaches Association in its Junior College Pacific Division top-25 poll. The NWAACC has six teams in the latest poll, including No. 2 Lower Columbia (Longview, Wash.).

As it stands, Lane and Mount Hood will play April 20 at LCC. Next on the Titans’ schedule is a doubleheader at home on Tuesday against Southwestern Oregon starting at 1 p.m.

Weather permitting, of course.