2018 Spring Sports Previews: Molalla baseball
Head coach: Jim Dantona, second season
2017 record: 15-8 overall, 11-4 league, Tri-Valley Conference Second Place
Three-year record: 45-28 overall, 29-16 league play
Last playoff appearance: 2015, lost to Scappoose 2-13 in the quarterfinal round
Seniors lost: Four – Aaron Alexander (All-State winner), Will Schaefer (All-League winner), Trevor Miles (All-League winner), and Alex Hopkins
Key returners: Sophomore Damian Pingo (All-League winner), junior Jeff Larsen, senior Braden Hibbs, sophomore Linden Mackenzie, senior Hunter Dublin, senior Matt Roark, senior Kolten Jordan, sophomore Casey Brooks
2017 season recap: Under first-year head coach Jim Dantona, the Indians had a spectacular season, taking second in the Tri-Valley Conference (though they had the same record as Estacada, the Rangers went 2-1 against the Indians to clinch the league title) and earning a home play-in game. They had to cancel a number of games due to inclement weather, but managed to come alive during the back stretch of the regular season, where they eventually won seven games in a row to put them in a position to take the Tri-Valley title, until they fell 2-3 to Estacada in extra innings. Dantona's "small-ball" philosophy was largely a success, as the Indians were able to lay down bunts at the will and put pressure on opposing teams with their tricky baserunning tactics. They got themselves into some difficult situations at times, but Dantona knows how to gamble in those scenarios. Their home play-in loss to Junction City was a game the Indians realistically should have won by at least a few runs, but things didn't seem to go their way and their season ended abruptly.
Season outlook: Molalla returns a solid number of players from last season's squad, including All-League winner Damian Pingo, all-around fantastic athletes Jeff Larsen and Linden Mackenzie, and the veteran catcher Braden Hibbs. Molalla will look to employ its small-ball ideology again and make plays on the bases and by giving themselves opportunities to score with bunts and sacrifice plays. They again don't have much in the way of power players who are looking to crank homers when they step up to the plate, but Dantona is just fine with that. They lost three key seniors after last year, including All-State winner Aaron Alexander and All-League winners Trevor Miles and Will Schaefer, so they'll be looking to replace them as much as they can. Pingo, Roark, and Dublin all showed promise on the mound last season, and Dantona will likely look to the three of them again this year, especially Dublin as he is a lefty. The Indians kick off the season with three straight away games, followed by a return to the Volcanoes Tournament at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer. After that, they'll host the first Ron Santo Memorial Tournament in honor of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ron Santo, with whom Dantona was able to play with shortly when he spent time in the majors.
First game: The Indians open the season at Seaside on Tuesday, March 13 at 5 p.m.