Falcons continue building their program on the heels of a school-record 17-win season in 2012

The 2012 season was a standout one for Liberty. The Falcons went 17-11 overall and 14-7 in the Northwest Oregon Conference — good for third place behind Sherwood and Putnam — setting a school record for wins. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Liberty senior Dakota Drake delivers a pitch during the Falcons' annual 100-inning game fund raiser last week.

In the postseason, Liberty won a Class 5A home play-in game against Hermiston before falling 8-2 to a tough Pendleton team in the first round.

This season shows the promise to be another hallmark year.

Yes, Liberty has to overcome the loss of what coach Jackson Gillett described as “three starters that were all outstanding all-league players.”

Brett Bafaro, a first team all-state outfielder in 2012, is now a redshirt freshman on the University of Oregon football team. Alex Rose was an honorable mention all-state pick at catcher, and second baseman Nolan Selby earned an honorable mention nod as a utility player/designated hitter.

But six starters are back, including four members of the Falcons’ 2012 pitching staff. Multifaceted seniors Dakota Drake and Kevin Lave are back after being named to the NWOC second team as pitchers last season. Drake was also a first team infielder, and Lave made the second team as a first baseman.

“This year, our pitching should be the strength of the team,” Gillett said.

Jason Sandwisch will start at catcher this season, moving in from the outfield, while Zach Chitwood is back at shortstop (NWOC honorable mention in 2012). Left-hander Derek Beeler plays right field, pitches and has “just an absolute cannon of an arm,” Gillett said.

And though just a sophomore, Tyler Parker already boasts varsity experience at third base after being brought up from the freshman team to fill out the lineup in 2012. Another sophomore, Ryan Kaser, will attempt to fill Bafaro’s shoes in center field.

“He’s now the fastest player on the team,” Gillett said of Kaser. “Ton of speed, really good arm.”

Kyle Rose, Alex Rose’s younger brother, lettered as a freshman last year and will play left field this season, while junior Austin Krieck “brings a big bat to the lineup.”

“We really feel good about our lineup one through nine,” Gillett said. “I haven’t always said that. This year I really feel good one through nine through our lineup, and I really feel good one through five with our pitching.”

Between all the upperclassmen, American Legion summer play, and fall ball participation, Liberty brings a great deal of experience into 2013.

“They’re just taking baseball way more serious,” Gillett noted. “They’re watching baseball on TV at home now, they’re talking about the (Hillsboro) Hops coming out. Our program is really, really growing.”

The Falcons are testing themselves early this season. Their nonconference schedule includes games against Pacific Conference squads Glencoe (a 4-1 win on Monday), McMinnville (Wednesday, after the Tribune deadline), Hillsboro (5 p.m. today at Hare Field) and Century (at home on Monday).

They are also scheduled to play five contests at a tournament in San Diego over spring break before starting NWOC play at Parkrose on April 2.

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