New coach, young players looking for results

by: JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER  - Adam Knepp, left, works with Joe Daugherty during practice last week at Culver High School. The duo are just two returning starters that will play a big role in the Bulldogs' upcoming season. CHS opens play Tuesday at home against La Pine.If the Culver baseball team is anything this season, it’s motivated.

And why not? With a new coach and a loaded underclass ready to make its mark, the Bulldogs seem primed to make a run for the Class 2A Special District 3 League title.

Or at worst, a playoff spot.

“Oh, we definitely have the pieces,” junior shortstop Joe Daugherty said.

Nick Viggiano takes over the top spot this season after serving as an assistant under both Shea Little and James Mason. He brings a solid knowledge of the program, but an eagerness to make it his own.

“I’m pretty familiar with the kids, so hopefully it will be a pretty smooth transition,” Viggiano said. “The kids seem pretty excited. We have a lot of returners with a real good junior class, a couple of big freshmen and a couple of transfers. They will all help.”

The Bulldogs finished 11-13 overall last season under Shea Little, who is now the school’s athletic director and will serve as an assistant coach.

Culver was 6-10 in the 2A League which has been top-heavy as of late. Regis, Kennedy and Country Christian have done well in the playoffs out of the division.

But both players and coaches are looking to change that.

“Our attitude is good this year. Last year, we just kind of came in to play,” junior infielder Adam Knepp said. “A lot of guys here this year, we want to go all the way. People want to be here and they know what they want to accomplish.”

The team spent the first week of spring practice inside for the most part and without a half dozen players that took the week off after the end of wrestling season. But as the weather turns and the days pass, the Bulldogs will be at full strength and ready to go.

But the big question is how do they catch programs like Regis and Kennedy?

Viggiano said he will rely on his strengths — defense and desire.

The Bulldogs main strength will be its play up the middle, with both Daugherty and Knepp returning.

Daugherty was an all-league performer for the Bulldogs, hitting at a .550 clip. Viggiano tabs him as one of the big leaders on the team.

“I’m looking at him to step up as a vocal leader,” Viggiano said. “Both of them, really.”

To go with that defensive strength is some solid pitching and outfield play that should come from a couple of transfers.

Colton Tanner, up from California, and Clay McClure, who played at Central Linn last season, form a solid foundation that the Bulldogs can build on.

Viggiano said Tanner has looked good right off the bat and the Bulldogs are very familiar with McClure, who was an all-league centerfielder last year as an opponent.

Throw in senior Kyle Bender and Denton Schonneker, with a few other returners, and the Bulldogs have the makings of something special.

“We don’t have the best players in the league, but we just put it all together,” Daugherty said. “If we just put it all together play by play, we’ll be fine.”

For the first-year coach, who Knepp and Daugherty said is bringing a new sense of energy to the team, fundamentals will play a key role in the team’s success.

“The main thing I see being our strength right now is going to be our defense; I’m hoping our bats come around,” Viggiano said. “Hitting-wise, we are really starting to stress what our pitch is, trying to drive our pitch instead of just being up there as a batter and just swinging at the ball.”

In the cage, the Bulldogs look solid up and down the lineup and seem to have the ability to hit for power and move runners around. Viggiano said he feels whatever lineup he goes with will be able to produce whatever is needed in game situations.

“If we need to play small ball, if it’s that type of game, I think we can try to manufacture runs,” Viggiano said. “We’ve got some guys that can lay down some bunts. It’s just going to be a matter of getting that timely hit.”

And that has been the major difference between Culver being a playoff team and one that has stayed home — timely hits. The Bulldogs have created the right situations that lead to success but just haven’t completed the deal.

Everyone hopes that changes this time around.

“I think a lot of that is the youth that we have been playing,” Viggiano said. “They’ve been playing as freshmen and now they have that experience.”

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