The bitter disappointments of the past two postseasons after dominating regular seasons have provided fuel for Linn-Benton Community College baseball this spring.
But it’s more than just talent on the field that’s kept the Roadrunners on a successful path.
They’ve clinched a third straight trip to the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament and are within reach of another South Region title with a team that prides itself on team chemistry.
First-year head coach Andy Peterson and his players say there’s true friendship, love and trust that’s carried the squad.
“I think one of the big things is how close we are as a team. We love hanging out with each other,” said sophomore shortstop Richard Cardenas. “We do our little hug circle before every game. It gets us kind of close, and once we have that little bond, we know what we’re going to do and we trust everyone.”
When asked this week about the biggest factors that have carried the team this season, the first answer from the coach and three players surrounded the unity and how they play for one another.
“A lot of the good teams I’ve ever played on, we’ve gotten along really well,” said Peterson, a former Oregon State baseball player. “I think this team, they really do generally care for each other. They root for each other. They get excited when somebody does something good. They pick each other up when something goes bad.”
Last spring, Peterson was a volunteer assistant coach under Ryan Gipson, another Beaver baseball alum. Gipson is now an Oregon State assistant.
Peterson credits Gipson with building the foundation for this year’s team.
Gipson and the Roadrunners won a combined 72 games the past two seasons but went 0-2 each time when reaching the season-ending NWAC tournament.
“I think that drives us a ton,” said freshman outfielder Jacob Melton. “Knowing that we could get back there, do the same thing, I think it motivates us to work harder make sure the same result doesn’t happen at the tournament again this year.”
Added Mascarenas: “It happened to our sophomores last year. They did it the year before us. It happened again last year. We have that fire now. We want to go out there and prove them wrong.”
LB is 26-9 overall and 16-4 in region play heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
The Roadrunners are tied for first in the South with Mount Hood (also 26-9, 16-4). The teams split four games this season.
LB plays four games with Clackamas (8-28, 5-15) this weekend, two in Oregon City on Friday and two at home Saturday. Mount Hood closes with four versus Clark (20-22, 9-11).
The region winner gets a bye in next week’s Super Regionals, while the runner-up will play in that round in an attempt to qualify for the NWAC tournament, May 23-27 in Longview, Washington.
Should Linn-Benton and Mount Hood tie, the super regional bye will be determined by each team’s results against the third-place regional finisher.
“A bye for anybody is absolutely huge,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t matter what the other teams are doing, we have to take care of business this weekend for us.”
Linn-Benton had a 13-game winning streak earlier this season that included 11 regional victories. They split four games with Chemeketa, the South’s current third-place team, before a bye in the schedule last weekend.
The Roadrunners have just 10 home runs for the season, tied for 18th in the 28-team NWAC. But they are eighth in doubles (68) and sixth in triples (12) while second in batting average (.307).
“We put a lot of balls in play, hit balls on the nose and we find gaps,” Melton said. “When you’re hitting balls hard they’re not always going to get caught.”
Melton has proven to be one of the NWAC’s better offensive players with his .374 batting average and 32 RBIs. He also leads the team with 33 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.
Mascarenas, expected to play at Oregon State next spring, is hitting .302 with 26 RBIs, 30 runs scored and seven stolen bases. Sophomore first baseman Colton Talton is batting .298 with a team-best four home runs and 31 RBIs.
On the mound, sophomore right-hander Daniel Ferrario is 5-1 with a 2.41 earned-run average. He averages better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
Sophomore lefty Austen Carpenter (5-2. 3.63), has won four of his last five starts. He strikes out better than eight batters per nine innings.
“We all know the talent on the team, and I think we’ve worked hard,” said Jordan Mambaje, a redshirt freshman catcher. “We definitely think we’ve put ourselves in a good position to be where we are.”
Peterson says Mascarenas and Melton are both naturally talented players and “workhorses” who spent offseason hours in the weight room to put on weight and muscle.
Mascarenas carries confidence that has made him a leader.
“Richy is our guy. Everybody follows him,” Peterson said. “The kid doesn’t stop moving, doesn’t stop talking. Loves being at the yard, and I think that’s a contagious thing to have.”