By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– When the 2018 season kicked off last year, North Salem had just 13 kids in their whole baseball program. It’s weird for a program at a school at that student size as the Vikings have to see that.
But nonetheless the North Salem 13 made the play-in round and nearly broke into the bracket with a late game rally versus Sheldon. Of their 11 Greater Valley Conference losses last season, four were within one run and two others were within two runs.
Those losses could’ve been made the difference between Top half of league and middle of the league as they finished.
“Last year was tough because we lost six-or-seven one-run games and if we got the difference between those two, we’ve got a difference between being in the upper part of the league and being in the middle of the league where we were,” said Head Coach Chris Lee, who’s entering his 20th season as manager of the Vikings. “We ended up making the playoffs, playing Sheldon. Made it close late but they got the best of us and we hope to improve on that because we have a bunch of returning guys.”
Though they’re losing catcher Reyes Luna, outfielder/pitcher Jake Mason and pitcher August Hagwell from last season, they are returning nine seniors entering this season as the numbers increased in the program to 19 from the 13 from last season.
For guys like Cameron Kallhoff, Will Tsukamaki, Dylan Ebbs, Elijah Letney, Zach Goodwin, Brian Bernal, Ethan Thomas, Nathan Snyder and Keegan Wafer, that Varsity experience last season together has helped them a lot entering this season in knowing on what it takes to play and succeed at this level.
Ebbs mentioned that they need everyone though, not just as themselves as Seniors but those younger guys as well.
“We learned our mistakes so now this year we can fix those mistakes,” said Ebbs. “We have new people as well, so we have to include them too. Our whole team, we need them all. Everyone is a factor, it’s nice to have 10 seniors on the team, it’ll be a lot losing last year because we don’t have that many people coming in. But yeah, it’s going to be a good year this year.”
Daniel Alexander, a Senior, returns as team manager this year. And with only a handful of younger guys behind them, it’s important for this senior heavy class to be good leaders for them to help them along to the speed of the Varsity game.
“Our returning guys need to step up and be leaders,” said Kallhoff. “Be able to talk to the younger guys about things that they are doing wrong, gradually get them use to the speed of the Varsity game because it is a lot different game than the level that they’ve been playing at. Just being able to help them into it, I think they’ll be able to come around and be good.”
And with though they’ll face several of their former Salem counterparts in preseason with McNary (3/21), Sprague (4/2) and West Salem (4/4), it’ll be different when Mid-Willamette Conference league start against the Corvallis and Albany schools with unfamiliar faces in the other dugout. But the mentality at the plate and in the field has to be the same if not more aggressive.
“It’s going to be tough. A lot of the time we will be playing people and we’ll look over in the other dugout and see people that we knew or see people that we recognized and now it’s a lot of new people,” said Kallhoff. “I think we just got to and take it as, ‘ok whoever this guy is, we’re going to hit off of him. Whoever these people are, we’re going to hit them today.’ I think it’s going to be tougher than when we knew people, but we’re going to embrace it.”
Photos By Jeremy McDonald