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The Spartans' slow start is a product of a tough nonconference schedule, and not a sign of things to come.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Jackson Price winds for a pitch during the Spartans' game against Liberty Friday, April 1, at Liberty High School. Price threw a no-hitter against the Falcons.Their record may not show it, but the Hillsboro High School baseball team is a team to be reckoned with.

The Spartans got just their second win of the year when they defeated Liberty 2-1 last Friday, April 1, at Liberty High School, but despite the slow start, don't let head coach Bob Berent hear any chatter about his Spartans not being ready for a run at a league title.

"There's a lot of upside with this team," Berent said. "I really put together a difficult preseason on purpose because I thought these guys could handle it. They faced it, and credit to our competition because it was tough, but now we're starting to get a bit of a rhythm, and hopefully it will pay off."

The Spartans are led by a core of four seniors who have been starting or playing significantly since their freshmen year: Collin Rickis, Jackson Price, Luke Calvert and Kyle Meyer.

Rickis, Calvert and Meyer hold it down from their infield positions, with Rickis and Calvert manning the middle from shortstop and second base, while Price sits behind the plate at catcher when he's not dealing from the mound.

The senior right-hander is the ace of Hillsboro's rotation, and last Friday versus Liberty, he held the home Falcons hitless throughout, pitching seven scoreless innings while striking out 13 and walking just one.

Berent speaks highly of all four of his senior contributors, but he singled out Price in particular for his dual role on the team.

"He's going to do a great job for us there," Berent said of Price as a pitcher. "But he's also already done a good job behind the dish and can also help us out in the outfield when needed. He's very versatile and that's going to help him continue to make himself better."

And that improvement is something Berent said Price and all of his teammates really need to commit to doing.

Having lost a season and a half due to COVID-19, the coach said he and his staff are still trying to find ways to get their players in the proper mindset necessary to maximize their abilities. He can't entirely put a finger on the best way to describe what seems to be missing and why, but they're working hard on instilling a winning mentality while at the same time allowing these kids to enjoy being able to play a full season of baseball.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Collin Rickis fields a ground ball during the Spartans' game against Liberty Friday, April 1, at Liberty High School. "We've had to remind them that nothing is going to be handed to you — you've got to work to earn it," the coach said. "For these seniors, they lost their sophomore years, the summer after it, scrambled to play at all last spring and now are at the end. It's been tough, but I'm hopeful we can get things back and seeing some signs that it's happening."

In addition to his veteran leaders, Berent said he has some impressive sophomores who got a taste last season, plus who he feels is a special freshman, Connor Hammond.

The freshman pitcher and outfielder earned a spot in the starting lineup, and he recently was promoted to the leadoff position as a result of his work both in practice and games.

"He's got big-time potential," Berent said of Hammond. "He got his feet wet in the first few games, but as coaches, we saw him earn his way into that top spot.

"He's a heck of a little ballplayer and he's going to be good for the next four years, and is definitely on a path to playing beyond that."

The coach said that he expects Wilsonville and La Salle to again be formidable in league play and added that he's been impressed with what Scappoose had done early on. But he also believes they'll be in the thick of things in the Northwest Oregon Conference race — and beyond.

"It's really just our mentality that we have to get right, understanding what it takes to compete as hard as possible," Berent said. "As coaches, we believe more in these guys than they do, so they need to understand that and see it. We're gearing up to be a playoff team, and with the makeup we have on the mound, there's definitely a chance for us to do things in the playoffs."

And that's exciting for the coach, but not any more exciting than the opportunity to watch these seniors simply play ball.

"I'm super-excited for them to get the chance to play a real, full season," Berent said. "They've missed out on so much, so win, lose or draw, I'm excited for them to play, have fun and show people what they can do."


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