Pioneer baseball team preps for Greater Oregon League grind

A year after going winless against the Greater Oregon League, Mac-Hi turns up the intensity with the start of baseball season.

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MILTON-FREEWATER - There appears to be a different attitude in Mac-Hi baseball circles these days.

The Pioneers, who suffered through a winless Greater Oregon League season in 2011, are looking to turn things around against the likes of La Grande, Baker City and Ontario, and a non-conference portion of the schedule that includes matchups with the likes of Madras and DeSales.

"Our focus level and effort has been really good," Mac-Hi coach Mike Garcia said. "The coaches have an expectation we want to meet. We want to do well this season. I feel good about what we have."

The Pioneers feature six seniors on this year's roster including two starters who are playing their fourth season of varsity baseball - shortstop Patrick Sheets and catcher Willie McCoy.

"We're focused and wanting to win. We've got the team to do it," Sheets said. "We have a new assistant coach (Jon Edwards), who played college and triple-A baseball. He knows the game of baseball.

"We need to play as a team, play to our potential, work hard and strive for the same goal," Sheets said.

"Everybody seems to want it more," McCoy said. "The seniors are pushing to have a good season. We haven't had one in a while. We've got good kids in the program right now."

A trio of seniors - center fielder Jake Morris, third baseman Troy Kessler, and pitcher Kevin Cuellar - are in their third varsity campaigns.

"It's going to take dedication and teamwork," Morris said when asked what it will take for Mac-Hi to achieve success. "We're wanting to win instead of wishing and waiting. I can't wait to actually get out there and play."

Kessler stated togetherness as a key component for the Pioneers going forward.

"Hopefully it goes (well)," Kessler said. "We need to get along to get our job done."

"The seniors are keeping everyone in line," Cuellar said. "We want to leave a strong program (behind) for the younger kids so when their time comes, they know they can (win)."

Starting left fielder Taylor Hodgen, in his second year on the varsity, rounds out the list of Mac-Hi seniors.

"For the seniors, doing well is important," Hodgen said. "If people know the baseball team is good, they'll want to come out and play."

Juniors on the team include a couple of "capable kids," Garcia said. Jordan Leinbach can pitch or play at second, third, or shortstop, and utility player Saul Ortiz - "who has developed well," according to Garcia - gives Mac-Hi another arm on the mound or could see action in the infield.

Derek Richwine and Dylan Shuler will assume the right side of the infield at first and second base, respectively, Garcia said.

Garcia noted Dalton Wesner (third base, first base, pitcher), Tavis Hodgen (catcher, pitcher, outfield), and Eddie Zaragoza (third base, first base, pitcher) as three juniors who will compete for varsity playing time.

Sheets, Kessler, and Morris may also be called upon for mound duty, Garcia said.

"We're not hurting for arms," Garcia said. "We're prepared better this year than last year."

Garcia said the GOL grind will not be easy, but is confident his squad can make some noise.

"The GOL is always tough year in and year out," Garcia said, "but I don't expect anything less than us being in the mix."

The Pioneers open their season with a home game against Umatilla on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

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