By Jeremy McDonald
CLACKAMAS, Ore.– The journey of the 2016 North Salem Viking baseball team was an intriguing one.
With eight seniors, they were slowly familiarizing themselves to the varsity experience as they started off their campaign slow.
Closing the first half of the Greater Valley Conference, the Vikings sat two games in front of McKay for last place at 3-5 in league and 7-9 overall; North caught fire at the right time.
Behind seniors like Cole Hamilton, Noah Boatwright and Cameron Jolly, North lost just twice in their next 12 games that included fantastic wins over West Salem(10-6), South Salem (1-0) and a comeback from behind victory over Willamette (4-3) to clinch a spot in the 32-team bracket as the 27th-seed.
“I think everyone realized the way it was going and they wanted to change things,” said Boatwright. “They wanted to make the playoffs and do all of these big things that we talked about at the beginning of the year.
“We just played good baseball because that’s how we’re coached. It showed our resilience at the end of the year, I’m proud of everybody that played this year.”
Finishing 9-7 in the GVC and 15-12 overall confidence was high and that slow start to the season was an after-thought lost to the sands of time.
Against them to start the playoffs though, was the Clackamas Cavaliers, the sixth-seed in the bracket.
With strong defense with Jacob Pfenning, Boatwright and Hamilton, mixed in a few plays from Cameron Kallhoff, North were nine outs away from an upset up 1-0 entering the bottom of the fifth.
A groundout and a Nick Raska strikeout knocked it to seven outs before a Cavalier single broke the back-to-back outs.
But a grounder back to Raska ended the inning as he completed the out to Pfenning.
“Just keep grinding, my at-bats weren’t going to change,” said Hamilton. “I was going to hit the ball hard either way like I did anyway. Nothing changed, you just try to tack on more, keep adding to the lead.
“We had our chances, but we didn’t capitalize on them. We didn’t take advantage of them.”
They did have their chances, but couldn’t add to their lead following Kallhoff’s RBI single that brought Andrew Nunez home.
The Viking magic would run out however in the sixth inning when Clackamas scored twice and continue to slow the bats of North Salem for the 2-1 victory, ending the Viks season.
The result will leave a sour taste in the mouths of the younger kids who remain after the nine seniors leave. They know that this result is not a result of how hard they worked this season. They know that this game will stick with them entering 2017.
“I think we need to keep working, just remember this game,” said freshman Will Tsukamaki. “Keep this bitter taste in our mouths for next season and just out-work everyone. That’s how we got good this year, cause we were out-working other teams.
“What I could see, there wasn’t one team in the state that outworked us in the offseason. So we just got to keep that, keep our program going, keep that going.”
But that’s just what North Salem baseball is, just keep grinding and working hard. For players like Tsukamaki, Kallhoff, Raska, and Sean Alvarado to name a few, the seniors left them with confidence to share with future Viking baseball players.
“I think they gave us a lot of confidence and they just instill us playing hard and not thinking about being freshman,” said Tsukamaki. “Just man-ing up because this is Varsity baseball, there’s no freshman or sophomore’s, it’s Varsity baseball.
Hamilton reiterates what Tsukamai said about the message that they, as seniors are leaving behind for the future waves of Viking baseball players.
“The freshman came up, first off we told them you got to play like you’re not freshman, there’s no freshman on this team, we’re all Varsity players,” said Hamilton. “That’s what we preach here, you might be a freshman, but if you make an error, we’re not going to be like, ‘it’s ok, you’re a freshman’ you’re the same as everybody else.
“There’s some people who are better, there’s some people who aren’t. All the freshman grind, they listen to us all the time.”
For Boatwright and Hamilton, though they can’t speak for all eight of the seniors on the team as they hug each other and slowly walk off the diamond for the last time in the North Salem Uniform, the feeling could be mutual.
“It’s a great year with my friends and glad I got to wear the North Salem uniform for four years. It’s a pleasure,” said Boatwright.
“I can’t complain with how the season we had,” said Hamilton. “I mean we had a rocky start and we made a run there in the middle and around the end, so I can’t complain. It was a satisfying senior year.”
No matter if you’re a soon-to-be freshman of the Viking Baseball program or a soon-to-be graduate, you always remember playing for the ‘NS’ on your hat.
Follow Jeremy McDonald on Twitter at @J_McDonald81 or like jmcdonaldmedia on Facebook!
PHOTO GALLERY (PICTURES BY JEREMY MCDONALD)