St. Paul baseball team aims to make history
After serving as an assistant coach last season, coach Dwayne Nowlin has taken over the St. Paul baseball program this season with an eye on unprecedented success. The Bucks were 15-4 last year, but they bowed out in the first round of the state playoffs.
Breaking the playoff victory drought is the team's goal as it enters the 2019 season.
"The kids want to win a playoff game," Nowlin said. "St. Paul has never won a playoff game in baseball, so that is our goal this year."
Before they get to the playoffs and potentially advance, the Bucks will have to navigate a new league in which they are the only 1A school. St. Paul is in 1A/2A Special District 1 with 2A schools Gaston, Knappa, Neah-Kah-Nie, Nestucca, Portland Christian and Vernonia.
Knappa, from Astoria, is the two-time defending state champions and hasn't lost a game in two years. Some of its past and current players have gone on to play college baseball or received attention from professional scouts – a rarity at this level.
Nowlin said that Neah-Kah-Nie and Nestucca should also be among the best teams in their league, and that the Bucks have a chance to contend based on their talent and continuity in the program. All of the players at St. Paul also compete in other sports with each other, so the chemistry only adds to the skill this group brings to the table, Nowlin said.
"I really believe that kids should play multiple sports," he said. "At St. Paul, some of the boys are dual sport athletes during the same season. Everybody that is on the baseball team plays one more sport or two more sports."
St. Paul had a record 28 boys come out for baseball this season, continuing the trend that coach Todd Swan saw in basketball. That means the Bucks will be able to field a junior varsity team again this season, a fact not all 1A schools can boast about.
There are some 6A schools that don't even have the numbers St. Paul does in baseball. Nowlin said the turnout is a sign of the community's embrace of sports as an essential part of life for many high school students in the tiny town.
"At North Salem High School, which is a huge school, they only have 19 boys out for baseball out of 1,500 kids," he said. "Here we are at St. Paul with 28 kids out and only 90 to 95 students in the entire school district. That's amazing."
Key contributors in baseball all found themselves in key positions on the basketball and football teams too.
Seniors Jaidyn Jackson (shortstop/pitcher), Justin Herberger (outfielder/pitcher), Rawley Koch (outfielder/pitcher) and Zach Brentano (designated hitter/utility player) will lead an experienced group that boasts a potent lineup and plenty of pitching depth, Nowlin said.
"We are going to be fast," he said. "We should score a lot of runs, too, because we can hit the baseball. Our pitching depth is probably our best asset this season."
St. Paul opened its season on Monday with a game against Country Christian/North Clackamas Christian. Next up for the club is a pair of games in John Day, tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m, Saturday against Umatilla and Grant Union/Prairie City. After a 6-4 win in a non-league home game against Santiam on Monday, the Bucks open their league schedule with a three-game series versus Gaston March 19-21. The entirety of St. Paul's league schedule from there on out will be played in similar three-game sets after the team plays a non-league tournament at Volcanoes Stadium in Salem from March 26-28.