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The Falcons graduated eight seniors, so any experience their players get this summer could pay dividends next spring

PAMPLIN MEDIA: JIM BESEDA - Wigman Sox (La Salle Prep) center fielder Nolan Grogan had one of his team's three first-inning singles in Tuesday's 2-1 OIBA road win over Aloha.Under normal circumstances, La Salle Prep baseball coach Nate Fogle probably would not look to a knuckleball pitcher to come into a tight game in the sixth inning and ask him to close it out.

But Tuesday's road trip to Aloha for an Oregon Independent Baseball Association scrimmage with the Warriors was not normal.

For starters, the Wigwam Sox (the name the Falcons use during summer ball) left two players at home to play in a double-header with their OIBA Futures team, two others were out of town, and catcher Sean MacNeela was sidelined with an arm injury, leaving the varsity team shorthanded.

Fogle called on graduated senior Justin Owens to make a spot start and got a solid 5 2/3 innings from the right-hander. He then handed the ball to Isaac Kersey-Bronec -- the senior-to-be whose repertoire includes a knuckleball -- and asked him to get the last four outs.

Kersey-Bronec struggled to keep the ball down and he allowed one of the two inherited runners to score in the sixth inning, but then he got some help from the free-swinging Warriors in the seventh as the Sox held on for a 2-1 win, running their win streak to three games.

"We usually have 15 players, but today we were short, which is one of the things you battle in the summer -- trying to find those 10 or 11 to consistently come all year," Fogle said. "The thing with summer baseball is you want to play 30-plus games if you can, but sometimes pitching doesn't allow that.

"When I'm bringing a graduated senior back, it's usually because I want these guys to get at-bats and I'm just throwing guys out there to get us innings."

Owens was a bit rusty early on, walking four of the first seven batters he faced. He then settled down and took a three-hit shutout into the sixth when Aloha's Gryphn McGurll reached on a one-out, infield single, went to second on a passed ball, and advanced to third on a groundout.

Kersey-Bronec, who started the game at second base, then took over the pitching duties and walked the first batter he faced, Aloha's Drew Fritz, putting runners at first and third. Fritz then stole second and Sox catcher Tyler Anderson's throw to second bounced into center field, allowing McGurll to score and Fritz to move to third.

With the tying run 90 feet away, Kersey-Bronec avoided any further damage when he got Alex Reid to swing and miss at a 1-2 fastball.

In the Aloha seventh, Travis Helm drew a one-out walk to put the tying run on base, but Kersey-Bronec retired the next two batters on a pop out to shortstop and a line out to third base.

"Isaac was a little more wild with his knuckleball today," Fogle said. "His last outing, he threw six or seven knuckleballs for strikes and I'm like, 'I think that will work.' Nobody sees that pitching anymore, and I saw him get a strikeout with it.

"It's been five years since I got back into coaching and that's the first knuckleball strikeout I've seen."

Wigman jumped on Aloha starter Travis Helm in the first inning for two runs on three hits, including an RBI-single by Kersey-Bronec that scored Matt Evans, and another RBI-single by Patrick Raschio that scored Kersey-Bronec.

The Sox' offense barely made a peep after that, going hitless with 11 strikeouts over the final six innings. Spencer Paugh reached on an error leading off the fifth, and Kersey-Bronec drew a walk leading off the seventh, but both runners were left stranded at third when the Sox failed to connect against Aloha relievers Brendan Koebke and Dean Clark.

Certainly, the lack of offense is a concern. But aside from Nolan Grogan in center field, Evans at shortstop, and Owens on the mound, most of the Sox's other starters on Tuesday were players making the transition from junior varsity to varsity ball. And with some of them, just getting in the batter's box and taking a few good hacks can be beneficial, regardless of how much contact they make.

"For me, our goal is all about getting them reps," Fogle said. "We're very, very raw, so the more game situations they can experience this summer, the better we'll be in the spring.

"I have a goal for all the main guys to get 80-90 at-bats this summer, and we're on pace to do that. And that's once again why I'll occasionally bring seniors back is because I want to get these guys as many at-bats as possible and worry about the process, not so much the results."

Through 11 games, the Sox are 5-5 with one tie. They're scheduled to play games Thursday at home against Valley Catholic, Friday at home against Putnam, and Saturday on the road against Forest Grove.

"We're converting right now, we had a lot of work to do, and a lot of it is just playing," Fogle said. "When we're in tournaments, that's when I really want us to really focus on results and winning. Everybody wants to win, and I want to win because success breeds success, but right now for me, it's all about reps. It really is."

By Jim Beseda
Sports editor
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