Six seniors who helped Umpqua Valley Christian rebuild its proud baseball program back in 2016 after the Monarchs weren’t able to field a team the previous season due to lack of numbers are hoping for a postseason run over the next two weeks.
The fourth-seeded Monarchs (23-3) have a bye in the first round of the Class 2A/1A playoffs and will host a second-round game on Wednesday at Roseburg’s Bill Gray Stadium at Legion Field.
They’ll face either No. 20 Culver (13-13) or No. 13 Central Linn (14-6).
Kolby Mahoney, Bo Pappas, Jacob Mesa, Jacob Luther, Aaron Buechley and Willam Andrecht are in their final seasons with Umpqua Valley Christian and will graduate this spring.
Mahoney (third base), Mesa (left field), Luther (shortstop) and Buechley (pitcher, center field, shortstop) are starters; Pappas (outfield) and Andrecht (utility) are reserves.
After finishing 8-18 overall in 2016, the Monarchs have improved the past three seasons with records of 19-9, 21-8 and 23-3. They claimed their third consecutive league championship this season, winning the Special District 4 title with a 16-2 league record.
“The physical maturity obviously is the big difference (with the seniors),” said Dave York, now in his 19th season as head coach. “The guys have really spent time in the weight room and they’ve done the work that needed to be done to get better.
“They’ve grown as being young men ... they came in as immature freshmen not knowing up from down. They’ve been able to develop into men who care about each other, care about their team, care about their families and care about their community.”
The Monarchs are certainly motivated this season after losing to Oakland in the first round of the playoffs last year.
“Last year was a hard thing for us to go through,” admitted Luther, who will continue his baseball career at Umpqua Community College in the fall. “We thought we should’ve done a lot better than that.
“Sometimes in losses, it really drives you further the next year. We have a lot of tools. We have a lot of younger players who have done their job, along with the seniors who came back, with a will to win. We’ll see how far we can make it this year.”
“If we keep playing baseball like we can, keep playing good, the sky’s the limit for this group,” added Buechley, who’s headed to Corban University to play basketball. “We’re pretty talented — we’ve been told that — and we just have to believe it ourselves.”
Pitching is the Monarchs’ strength; their collective ERA is 1.60. They’re also solid defensively. Even though they’ve struggled at the plate at times, they’re averaging 10.6 runs per game and have a team batting average of .360.
“Pitching and defense is what we pride ourselves on,” Buechley said. “When we can hit the ball and get timely hits we can put up big runs.”
York said, “We really thought our strength would be swinging the bat and on the offensive side. We’ve been actually way better on the mound and defensively than I even dreamed.”
The coach is hoping his club will be rewarded with some success in the playoffs, but it’s not about wins and losses.
“It’s like we tell our guys, we always want to think about the day and improve on the day,” York said. “Obviously you like to make a deep run, you always feel like it builds success.
“But like I told our program for years, we won’t know success in our program for 10 years down the road by the kind of guys they’re going to be. The one thing that would make this season a disaster would be in 10 to 15 years if these guys turned out to be jerks.
“We really do focus on building their character, being good men and getting better at the game of baseball. The wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
UVC’s side of the bracket includes No. 1 Knappa (22-1), the two-time defending champion, and No. 5 Reedsport (21-1), which has won 21 straight.