A late high school sports season and graduations have created some challenges at the start, but Corvallis American Legion baseball is back on the field in 2021 after missing last summer due to the pandemic.
A deep pitching staff and solid defense look to be the early strengths of the team as the Gerding Builders Marketmen have started the six-week regular season at 2-4.
After scoring just 14 runs in its first five games, Corvallis found 10 more to win Friday’s second game of a home doubleheader and sweep Portland Eastside.
“I think we have a lot of athletic and talented players and a lot of guys who can pitch for us” including several No. 1 starters from their schools, coach Evan Hilberg said. “I think the top of our rotation will be pretty good. Lots of varsity experience.”
In the field, Hilberg sees lots of outfielders with good arms and infielders who can man their spots well and play multiple positions.
“We should be pretty adaptable defensively and a lots of athletic kids with good arms and good fundamentals,” the coach added.
With players fulfilling other commitments, the team hasn’t had much time together as a full group. But Hilberg expects that to change in the next week or so.
This year’s roster includes players from Corvallis, Crescent Valley and Philomath as well as South Albany and West Albany high schools.
It’s a diverse group in terms of age.
Corvallis High alums Azel Bumpus (Chemeketa Community College) and Justin Misfeldt (Okanagan College) have time in collegiate baseball under their belts. Two other players, West Albany’s Marcus Allen and Crescent Valley’s Walker Still, just completed their sophomore seasons.
“We’re really talkative and good on the bench, so when we bring that energy with our youth we come out pretty good,” said Bumpus, an infielder and pitcher. “Energy is our biggest thing. That will carry us far.”
Hilberg said he’ll look to Bumpus and Misfeldt for leadership and setting an example.
Corvallis has 11 on its 17-player roster with pitcher listed among their positions.
Hilberg, a Corvallis High alum in his fifth year as head coach of the program after three years as as assistant, joked that he’s never heard of a summer team having too much pitching.
That depth will be tested in the second half of the regular season with the start of Area III play.
With the high school sports calendar year running about three weeks later than usual, Legion league play was pushed back to a late-June start. The Marketmen will play 20 games (including 12 Area III contests in a 22-day stretch to end the regular season.
Bumpus is the only player on the roster with Legion experience.
Hilberg said teammates who take mound will find it’s different than high school, where you only have to worry about two or three batters.
“Now it’s six or seven or eight across the board,” he said. “Experience will help, and of course we have a bunch of innings and guys will start to adapt to that and really learn how to pitch throughout a whole lineup and having to throw different pitches in different counts.”
Recent West Albany grad Luke Killinger, who has plans to play in college but has yet to sign, is among those who will eat up some of those innings.
He’s taking advantage of the opportunity this summer to get better and prepare for what’s next.
“The coaching staff is amazing. They’ve been helping me out on a lot of things, my swing, defense, just getting me right for the next level,” Killinger said. “I’m just trying to stay in the weight room, get bigger and stronger and add speed to my fastball if I can.”
Veteran coaches Jim Owre, Greg Smith, Larry Bumpus and Chad Hartsell returned this season to assist Hilberg.
“I think we have a really good pitching staff,” Killinger said when asked about the team’s strengths. “I think we’re starting to get our bats back together. Getting back in the cages and we’ll be really strong there. I think we have some of the best coaches in the state and I’m excited.”
Hilberg said one of the team’s challenges early in the season will be for the pitchers to understand that they have a solid defense behind them and to throw strikes, limit walks and not get behind in pitch counts.
A big goal will be to develop chemistry and play at a high level. Wins and losses will come and go, Hilberg said, and learning and growing is part of the process.
“They’re a great group and athletic and willing to learn, so whenever that switch gets turned on, I think it will be great for this group,” he said.