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The Braves' Gunnar Partain drives in seven runs in a 12-0 win over the Indians.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks' Gunnar Partain runs the bases after one of his hits during the Braves' game March 28 against Molalla at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.A team should never make too much, or too little of a win or loss early in any season, but since the Banks Braves baseball team's 6-2 defeat to North Marion March 19, things have been clicking to the tune of four straight wins, steady improvement in the field and at the plate, and a 31-3 score differential.

"Defensively, we're just tighter," said Banks head coach Joe Baumgartner. "Our pitchers are throwing strikes, we're getting healthy, and we continue to swing the bats."

The Braves survived a "rough" first inning Wednesday, March 28 against Mollala, to eventually overwhelm the Indians 12-0 in five innings of play at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.

Banks starting pitcher, Hayden Vandehey with help from reliever Thomas Cook, dominated Indian hitters, while infielder Gunnar Partain took care of the rest.

Partain finished with a single, triple, and fifth inning in-the-park grand slam en route to seven RBIs in the second of a two game stretch originally scheduled to be played as part of a tournament played at Molalla High.

Despite a first inning in which the Braves erred mentally in the field, Vandehey and Cook did their part on the mound, holding Molalla hitless through five, recording six strikeouts. Baumgartner described their effort as just another example of a pitching staff rounding into form as the conference slate approaches.

"We made some mistakes in the first inning, but our pitchers are throwing such great strikes," Baumgartner said. "We've had one walk and one hit batsmen in the last three games. I feel real confident with our staff."

The ace of which, Dalton Renne, threw his first inning of work last Saturday versus Corbett, and made his starting debut against Mazama March 27, throwing six innings in a 3-1 win. The senior, who's still recovering from a basketball injury a couple weeks ago, is slowly working his way back and nearly a full-go as Banks gets closer to its April 3 league-opener at Tillamook.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks' Hayden Vandehey hurls a pitch during the Braves' game March 28 against Molalla at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro."We're still limiting Dalton a bit, but he had really great stuff against Mazama," said Baumgartner.

After a scoreless first inning, the Braves opened things up in the second, getting five runs on just two hits — with a lot of help from the Indians.

Blaine Herb was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, then stole second and moved to third on an error. Following a Tyler Lilly groundout, Hayden Gobel walked, Herb scored the game's first run on a wild pitch to Blake Gobel who later walked, then after a Jared Evans single that scored Hayden Gobel, Partain tripled to left center and later scored on a sacrifice fly put the Braves on top 5-0.

They made it 8-0 in the bottom of the third, then ended things in the fifth in grand fashion — literally.

Hayden Gobel drew his second walk of the game to start, then Blake Gobel hit a towering double over the left fielder's head to put runners on second and third before a Tanner Shook base-on-balls loaded the bases for Partain, who hit another laser to the left centerfield wall, clearing the bases and trotting home for an in-the-park-homer that put Banks up 12-0 and ended the game by 10-run rule. It was the first time this season that Baumgartner used Partain in the leadoff spot, but likely not the last despite his value in a position better suited to drive in runs.

"We moved Gunnar to leadoff for the first time this year and obviously he swung it well," said Baumgartner. "But we still need to find someone else to put in an RBI spot, but we'll get that together and be okay."

Meanwhile things continue to come around on the mound, where Baumgartner believes they've settled on a rotation and have solidified roles, which the coach feels good about.

"I think we've got a really deep pitching staff," he said. "Renne, Vandehey and Lilly will be our starters, Thomas and Lyche will our relief guys, and we've still got guys like Trask Applegate and Blake Gobel who've thrown sparingly. We're in good shape."

Banks next plays Saturday, March 31 against Newport at 11 A.M. at Ron Tonkin Field.


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