To call Tuesday afternoon “long-awaited” would have been an understatement for hundreds of high school athletes around the state.
For the first time in nearly two years, baseball and softball players, golfers and track athletes were out and about, actually competing in events sanctioned by the Oregon School Activities Association.
“It was amazing. It was a long-awaited wait,” said Seaside softball player Kandice Flaigg, whose team opened the 2021 season Tuesday at Astoria. “Two years is too long for us.”
With the exception of a few non-OSAA baseball and softball games last summer, along with some virtual meets for track athletes, spring sports had not seen the light of day since 2019.
Scheduled events Monday and Tuesday marked the official return of high school spring sports in Oregon.
Players were a bit rusty, some skills have diminished, and games weren’t the prettiest — but athletes and coaches were back on the field, and that’s all they wanted.
“We didn’t have any seniors last year, so this year’s senior group has been waiting for eons to play this one,” said Seaside softball coach Joel Dierickx.
At least one local team will have to wait just a little longer.
Although Warrenton baseball played a summer schedule in 2020, the Warriors’ last official game was May 31, 2019 — the class 3A baseball state championship in Keizer.
On Tuesday, the Warriors traveled to Willamina for their 2021 debut, only to have the game canceled because of a COVID contact case at Willamina, the state’s first coronavirus-related postponement of the spring.
“We got there at three o’clock, at 3:05 we were ready to put our cleats on and warm up, and (Willamina school staff) had just gotten the confirmation about the COVID issue and the shutdown,” said Warrenton coach Lennie Wolfe. “It’s getting old.”
He added, “It’s pretty frustrating for everyone. Even more, we feel sorry for the Willamina people who are testing positive.”
Other than baseball in Willamina, most games and events were played.
As expected, there were some eye-popping scores around the state.
In softball, Culver topped Gervais 27-20; Oakland and Riddle played to a 15-15 tie; and Banks beat Tillamook 17-2.
And Flaigg’s team happened to be victorious, as Seaside topped the Lady Fishermen 16-12 in Cowapa League softball at CMH Field.
“We were just going to give our best effort, and put everything into the short season that we’ll have,” said the senior. “We got going, and we realized that, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re winning!’”
And win they did, snapping a string of 13 straight victories for the Fishermen.
In Seaside, the Gulls topped the Fishermen 15-12 in a Clatsop Clash baseball opener.
Rosters have a different look
Rosters and teams around the state looked a lot different than last seen.
In Oregon, the 2019-20 high school sports year ended in March 2020, abruptly bringing state basketball tournaments to a close just as they were set to begin.
Baseball and softball players, along with golf and track athletes, got the short end of the stick, so to speak.
Individuals and teams competing in spring sports never made it to the field, as their seasons were completely canceled.
Couple that with a short preseason, and it’s been a while since spring sport athletes have seen the field, which made for a few errors in season openers.
Typical of most games Tuesday, the Clatsop Clash baseball game got off to a slow start, with a combined eight runs on one hit, seven walks and a couple of big errors in a 40-minute first inning.
In softball, “we only had six days of practice before our first game, and we came in realizing that we’re barely into the season, and we’ll put forth what we have,” Flaigg said. “A couple of us were a little late on our timing, but we haven’t seen live pitching for two years.”
On the other hand, “Gracie (Rhodes, the Seaside pitcher) was on fire tonight. She had some amazing pitches. Erin (Owsley) made an amazing stop on a big line drive. We were definitely a little rusty at the start, but came out of it.”
The Warrenton baseball team will eventually make its return, as the Warriors scheduled a game with Ilwaco for Wednesday.
“I was pleased with the way the guys responded” at Tuesday’s postponement, Wolfe said. “We’re going to look at it in a positive way. Even if we have to play a lot of games in a short amount of time, we’re going to be playing. If we have to play six games in six days or less, so what? I don’t think we’ll ever take it for granted again.
“It’s what we say every year: the biggest thing to play for is fun. Maybe we’ll appreciate it more. More than ever before, people are just happy to get back out there again.”
In baseball action, Astoria and Seaside opened 2021 with a Clatsop Clash at Broadway Field, where the Gulls scored their third win in the last four meetings, also giving new coach Brett Wolfe a victory in his Seaside debut. It was career win No. 495 for Wolfe, after 494 at North Medford.
Seaside had an inside-the-park home run from Jarred White in the first inning, a three-run double by Andrew Teubner in the second, and a solo inside-the-park HR from Riley Kuhl in the fifth.
Shortstop Lawson Talamantez turned in a few web gems, as did Kuhl behind the plate in the seventh inning.
In a Northwest League game at Gaston, Knappa rallied from a 6-3 deficit after five innings to top the Greyhounds, 10-9.
In softball, Seaside topped Astoria 16-12, snapping a string of 13 straight Astoria wins going back to 2015.
The Lady Gulls led 11-5 after four innings, then held off a rally by the Lady Fishermen.
Seaside’s Erin Owsley was 3-for-3 with four runs scored, four RBIs and a home run.
Emma Taylor and Ila Bowles were each 2-for-4.
Elsewhere, Willamina won 13-4 at Warrenton, and Gaston defeated Knappa 16-13 in NWL action at Knappa. Hannah Dietrichs led the Loggers with three doubles and four RBIs, and allowed seven hits with 11 strikeouts.
On the track, the Astoria Fishermen held their first meet of the season Monday — against themselves — and junior Colton McMaster set the first of what will likely be several school records this spring, with a throw of 183 feet, 7 inches in the discus. The mark shattered the previous record of 165-3, held by Jason Thiel for over 30 years.