CCHS baseball team experienced at most positions, expect pitching to be a strength

 - Heath Pickhardt catches during practice last Tuesday afternoon. The Cowboys opened their season with a doubleheader at Redmond on Monday. The team does not play again until Thursday, March 22 when they host Sisters in a 4:30 p.m. contest.

The Crook County Cowboys had a disappointing season a year ago, finishing fourth in the Tri-Valley Conference with a 7-8 league record and a 10-14 overall mark.

However, head coach Frank Martinez believes that this year may be different.

"I'm really excited about this season because the guys are wanting to work," Martinez said. "We probably had 15 or 16 kids at winter practice for the most part. We've only had a week of practice, but so far, it's looking good."

Last year, the Cowboys offense was effective, scoring nearly six runs per game. Unfortunately, the pitching and defense weren't at the same level as the team gave up 8.5 runs per game.

Martinez is confident that this year's team will play better defense, and more importantly, he is expecting big things from the pitching staff.

Martinez noted that he expects to see pitching be one of the team's strengths this season.

Seven pitchers with varsity experience are back, plus the team has a transfer from Roseburg, who may move into the rotation as well.

Kyle Knudtson, Devin Bishop, Diego Smith, Augustus Williams, Carson Smith and Garett Bernard can all throw strikes and are all expected to be stronger than a year ago.

In addition, catcher Heath Pickhardt pitched a couple of games near the end of last year, with good success.

Martinez noted that Pickhardt will pitch at least occasionally this year.

Backup catcher Brody Connell can also pitch and could well be part of the rotation.

In addition, Brent Jackson, the transfer from Roseburg, is the team's lone left-hander and is expected to come out of the bullpen.

"Our pitching is going to be our strength," Martinez said. "We have five or six guys who can be dominant and throw strikes."

Pickhardt is also one of the players who is expected to lead the Cowboy offense. The senior hit just over .500 a year ago, and after playing with the Bend Bucks for the second consecutive summer, he should do some serious damage at the plate.

However, Pickhardt is far from the only offensive weapon that the Cowboys have.

Fellow seniors Devin Wilson and Josh Norris both hit the ball well a year ago.

Martinez also expects Hunter Bishop, Knudtson, Connell and Carson Smith to be major parts of the offense. Throw into the mix Jacob Kasberger and Will Combee, who can both hit with some power, and the Cowboys could have a lethal offensive mix.

The other thing that excites Martinez is the number of players that have tried out for the team.

For the second consecutive year, more than 40 players have attended practice, including 11 freshmen.

With so many players, the team has added a second JV team and is currently looking to add games to the schedule.

Finally, Martinez noted that Pickhardt, who signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Oregon last fall, has brought some exposure to the program.

"It definitely helps the team out," he said. "He is a team leader, maybe not a vocal team leader, but definitely a leader. And we know that we have scouts coming out, major league scouts, that are watching. There will probably be some in Redmond when we play them."

The Cowboys played the Panthers on Monday, March 12, in a doubleheader. The team then has more than a week before they play again, a home game, Thursday, March 22, against Sisters.

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