Amid swath of 2A baseball teams, 1A St. Paul stands tall
In 2019 when St. Paul baseball won its first playoff game against Santiam 2-0, it came toward the tail end of a topsy-turvy season. The Buckaroos went 16-14 that year, a team that knew it had to win but struggled to do so consistently.
In 2022, St. Paul is still putting together the pieces, but the bigger picture is coming more and more into focus. The Bucks started the season on a 14-game win streak, finished the season 17-7 overall and ranked as the No. 6 team in the state at 2A/1A. The team also secured a first round bye in the postseason, matching up with Regis in the second round.
Ultimately, St. Paul lost to Regis, extending a losing skid to four games in a row and spelling the end of spring season. The defeat to Regis was preempted by one-run defeats to Neah-Kah-Nie, Umpqua Valley Christian and Dufur/South Wasco County, all teams that made runs into the postseason.
St. Paul baseball coach Dwayne Nowlin doesn't believe that the losses hindered the team heading into the playoff game. In fact, he believes the step up in competition was ultimately helpful.
"The Umpqua Valley Christian (game), the Dufur (game), we didn't even have the games scheduled till like the last week of the year because we didn't want to sit around for 10 days and wait to play a playoff game because the last week in league we were the team that had the bye," Nowlin said.
"So we had no game scheduled. So our athletic director, Mr. Smith, he called me and said, 'How good of teams do you want to play?' And I said, 'We want to face some good pitching before we get in the playoffs.' So that's why we scheduled Umpqua Valley Christian, and we went down there and then we turned around and went to Dufur and wanted to face really good pitching before the playoffs because we were already in second place. We were already going to the playoffs."
They were challenged. In the last league game of the season, the Bucks lost to Neah-Kah-Nie 4-3; against Umpqua Valley Christian they lost 14-13; and against Dufur/South Wasco County they lost 4-3.
For coach Dwayne Nowlin, the lesson to take away from the season's end is knowing how to expect wins in close games and not just the games they ought to win.
"When we're down at Umpqua Valley Christian and we were up, what, 13-12 going into the bottom of the seventh," Nowlin said. "I looked over at one of my coaches and I was like, 'Look at Umpqua Valley's body language, they're down by one in the bottom of the seventh and they are relaxed, ready to go. Look at our kids, they're nervous.' We're playing on this big stage, we're playing the No. 1 ranked team in the state and our kids are nervous, we've got to get over that hump. We got to learn how to win close games."
It's a lesson that Nowlin expects his team to master sooner rather than later, especially considering it's a way of life for the very same athletes who compete on the football team. St. Paul, a perennial power at 1A football, has been among the best in the state for years.
"It's a step in the right direction," Nowlin said. "But I think our biggest problem is … St. Paul's football, in close games, St. Paul football teams win because those kids have been there before."
With a large complement of returning athletes and only five graduating seniors, St. Paul expects to be competing for or in the running for another top 10 ranking in the future. Only Knappa finished ahead of the Bucks in the league standings and with Neah-Kah-Nie moving up to 3A next year and Clatskanie (7-13) dropping down a classification, St. Paul figures to remain competitive in Special District 1.
Nowlin let that be known at the spring sports banquet.
"I was up there with a mic in my hand and we said you better get used to St. Paul being in the playoffs because our younger programs are being coached well," Nowlin said. "We have a ton of kids out and these boys better get ready to play baseball because we're going to be competitive. There's no reason we're not going to be competitive.
"We have to be dedicated, and we can keep doing this. It started four years ago when the seniors were freshmen. The first time St. Paul went to playoff game is when they were freshmen and we just want to keep it going."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.