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And 'up and down' season portends some good things in the future as injuries forced young players into lineup

A promising start gave way to a season of struggle as key injuries hit the Molalla High baseball team.

The Indians finished the season 4-12 in Tri-Valley Conference play, 5-18 overall. Early on, the team showed plenty of grit, opening the season with a series of close losses, but losing three seniors eventually began to tell on the team.

COURTESY PHOTO: SYDNEY THOMPSON - Molalla's Jackson Barton was a key cog in the Indian baseball team's machine this season.

"We had an OK year. In the beginning, we looked strong and ready to compete," coach Gary Miller said. "We ran into some injury issues, losing three seniors early on. As a team we had ups and downs all year."

In all, the Indians lost eight games by three runs or less.

Miller said that his team's pitching group turned out to be a highlight of the season.

"We have a young staff with Zach Clinton (So.), Tucker Ward (Jr.) and Jackson Baton (Jr.) all pitching well and looking to be even better next year," Miller said. "We have a freshman on our squad, Nyxon Hopping, who will be one to watch. I was a little nervous that he would be intimidated by varsity pitching early on, but that subsided once the season started. He batted .375 on the year, is showing promise as a pitcher, confidence on the basepath, and is excellent behind the plate."

What felled the Indians, as indicated by their bevy of close losses, were the lack of timely hitting and issues in the field.

COURTESY PHOTO: SYDNEY THOMPSON - The Molalla High baseball team had an "up and down" season according to coach Gary Miller as injuries took some key members out of the squad.

"That was our Achilles heel," Miller noted. "We left runners on base far too often and left our pitchers out on the mound too long at times."

In its last game of the season, a 1-0 loss to Estacada on May 16, the Indians and Rangers engaged in a classic pitcher's duel. It was also a glimpse, Miller hopes, of what the future might hold for his squad.

"Our team showed what we can expect for next season," he said. "Zach Clinton threw a gem, but Estacada manufactured a run in classic baseball fashion (for the win).

Estacada's Cory James walked, stole second and third, then was brought home on a sac fly to score the only run of the game. James then came on in relief and shut the Indians down in the last inning.

Miller called it a "notable effort by a guy who just wanted it. Hats off."

COURTESY PHOTO: SYDNEY THOMPSON - Chase Maricich provided plenty of spark for the Molalla baseball team's offense this season.

He also noted that the Indians have room to grow and that he thought the future was bright.

"We'll lose a few key seniors; Caden Alexander had a great year batting close to .360, was a very reliable pitcher, shortstop and second baseman. Mike Stephens was solid at first base and was looking to have a really good year until an injury to his shoulder cut his season short," Miller said.

"Outfielder Tony Morfin was solid in center field all year. We will miss his leadership and his speed on the bases. Theo Nunn had a decent senior season and his hitting and fielding improved as the season went along. The seniors we lost to injury, Isaac Klementis, Evan McEachran and Caden Raihala were definitely missed this year. All great players and fine young men. We wish them all the best in the future."

For the future, Miller noted junior outfielder Chase Maricich as one who started the season slowly, but something clicked as the season moved along and he looks in line for a good senior campaign in 2023.

"His hitting really improved, as well as his defense in the outfield," Miller said. "He has excellent speed on the bases, and his awareness has improved. He also took the mound for us and threw a no-hitter against Corbett. We expect him to be on the hill next year to improve our staff even more. Junior Tucker Ward was very solid on the mound this year and will be a force to reckoned with in his senior season. Our everywhere player, junior WIll Mason, was given the task of taking over at third base and improved game after game. He hit the ball well, batting .280 on the season, and collected 6 RBI in 11 games. We expect him to have a solid senior year.

"We also had a few call-ups from JV that showed we have some young talent in the wings. Freshmen Mason King and Mason Mead made the move up for a couple of games and were fearless against varsity pitching and played the field well.

"One of the highlights of the season was exchange student Tobias Kroupa," Miller added. "He had never played the game before and proved to be a quick learner. He played mostly on JV, but spent a little time at the varsity level. He collected a couple of hits, an RBI and scored two runs. On top of that, he is just a great team player and a fine young man."


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