Liberty Falcons baseball flying again
It had been two years since the Liberty baseball team had played a game, and no one understands that better than head coach Ryan Raagas, who was recovering from consecutive Achilles tendon tears the last time his squad took the field.
"I'm not sure any of these kids have even seen me walking around without crutches," Raagas said with a chuckle.
They have now, as the Falcons officially took flight last week with a game versus Tigard and consecutive games against league foe Forest Grove. While the team saw mixed results — a loss at Tigard, and a blowout win followed by a close loss versus the Vikings — Raagas said it's less about the wins and losses this season, and more about making up for what has ultimately been lost time for kids and coaches who've just missed the game.
"First, it was just great to be back out there," the coach said. "I thought we competed really well, and that's what I'm looking for out of these guys. We're trying to make up for lost time that we're not going to be able to get back in terms of development, but we can make up for in the way that we play and the effort that we put in."
The Falcons dropped their opener to Tigard, 11-7, then beat Forest Grove, 14-0, thanks primarily to 12 Vikings walks and three errors. Pitcher Jackson Koons threw four innings, allowing no earned runs on five hits while striking out eight. They followed that up a day later when they played Forest Grove to a 6-6 tie before darkness postponed the game until Saturday, April 17, when the Vikings pipped them by a run to win 7-6.
Raagas said that with every game, they expect to make strides — much of which will come simply as a result of shaking off two years of rust.
At the same time, the coach said they've been fortunate — while not having a ton of varsity experience — to have a couple returning players from the 2019 varsity team, along with a core group that was able to work a bit during the offseason when restrictions allowed.
"A lot of our starters were with us during the offseason, but it's hard to simulate live pitching," Raagas said. "So, there were some struggles early, but I think we've adjusted pretty quickly and pretty well, and hopefully we'll keep getting better."
The coach said there are obviously a number of unknowns with the team due to its youth and having had two years off. But he expects Liberty to lean heavily on Koons, who will be pitching for Linfield College next year, along with returning all-conference outfielder Ryan Miller to key any success the Falcons will have during the short six-week season.
"Jackson is going to shoulder a lot of the load for us, and Ryan Miller provides a lot of our offense and is super-versatile defensively."
Raagas also mentioned senior outfielder Gran Koons, whom the coach said "is a spark plug and one of the highest-effort guys on the team," along with freshman catcher Ty Sheldon, whom Raagas said turned some heads with his defensive effort and has earned the respect of the team's older pitchers in term of their level of comfort throwing to him.
"He's definitely going to catch some games for us," Raagas said. "He's someone that in a short, weird year like this, we're willing to kind of throw into the fire and see what comes out. I think it's going to be good for him to learn at the highest level."
And what are the team's goals considering the oddity that is the 2021 season? Ultimately, to finish the year, the coach said. He said he's emphasized to his team the importance of closely following the safety protocols so as not to jeopardize their season, and beyond that just to have fun. Sure, they want to win games, per usual, but they also want to enjoy what was so cruelly taken from them a year ago.
"We want to take the training wheels off and let the kids be aggressive this year, making up for the loss of last season," Raagas said. "I don't want to hold anybody back. We want to let them go and be as aggressive as they want to be. They've earned that."
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