Eastside Preps: Gresham baseball digs in
It looked dire as the sun slowly set over Gresham baseball.
The Gophers were hosting Centennial Friday evening, April 23, and a slow start threatened another loss in the 2021 season.
Heading into the bottom of the sixth, Gresham was trailing 7-3 with little momentum. Junior Zack Kaufman was walked with the bases loaded, cutting the lead 7-4 with the Gophers sitting on two outs. That is when senior Jack Nehler stepped up to the plate, sparking late-game heroics that forced extra innings to be played at a future date.
Nehler slammed a deep hit to bring home two, cutting it to 7-6. Then in the top of the seventh, Nehler made a defensive play — a difficult, diving grab at first base to escape the inning and give his team a chance.
In the bottom of the seventh, again facing two outs, a Gresham runner was able to steal home after an Eagles error to tie it 7-7.
Because it had gotten too dark to continue, Gresham will have to wait and see if the roaring comeback leads to a win. But regardless of that outcome, or the slow start to the season, coach Matt Smallwood is more focused on continuing to grow his young team.
For the Gophers, being able to play baseball after a year away from sports is the best part.
"This last year has been so hard on everyone, but I think it's been especially difficult for our students," said Gresham coach Matt Smallwood. "So much of their day-to-day activities were taken from them."
Despite the early losses, Gresham has shown what it's capable of. They have been scoring runs — 16 in one game, 12 in another — and have flashed moments of brilliance on defense. That was true against Centennial, when an incredible defensive sequence in the top of the third set the stage for the comeback.
Centennial was leading 4-0 after a single from senior Coleman Landolt and were threatening a rout. The bases were loaded, Gresham had zero outs, and a new pitcher was stepping up to the mound — junior righty Carlton Frost.
The Eagles' batter popped it up on a bunt. Frost made the catch, slung it to third for the second out, and then the Gophers whipped it back to first for the triple play.
That kind of energy is striking for a team limping out of five consecutive losses, which would be a death knell for many squads. But that is not how the Gophers operate. There is a resilience and connection born from most of the players competing alongside one another since Little League.
"They enjoy each other and love to compete next to their buddies," Smallwood said.
That tone is set by the four senior leaders: Nehler, Dawson Coder, Kile Allmaras and Aiden Breeze. Gresham also has a deep bench, with Smallwood saying he doesn't miss a beat when bringing in a reserve. That versatility allows him to go with the hot hands.
"We are a young team with a lot to build on," Smallwood said. "It's a great group of young men and our coaches are grateful for the opportunity to work with them once again."
Mt. Hood Conference standings (as of Sunday, April 25):
Barlow 5-1 (5-1 overall)
Clackamas 4-1 (5-1)
Reynolds 3-2 (3-2)
Central Catholic 2-1 (2-2)
Sandy 2-2 (3-2)
Centennial 2-3 (2-3)
David Douglas 0-4 (1-4)
Gresham 0-4 (0-5)
Barlow 5-0 (6-0 overall)
Central Catholic 4-0 (5-1)
Clackamas 2-2 (3-3)
Sandy 2-2 (2-3)
Centennial 1-3 (2-3)
Gresham/David Douglas 1-4 (2-4)
Reynolds 0-4 (1-5)
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