Warrenton catcher Jacob Morrow

Warrenton’s Jacob Morrow had already hit a home run this season, equaling the team’s total from last year.

It’s been a while since Warrenton baseball went into a season with the “league champions” label.

The Warriors were actually co-champions last year with Rainier, cruising through the league season with a 10-2 record, after a 1-17 overall record in 2017.

Warrenton slipped up in a league playoff with Clatskanie, as the Tigers scored a 2-1 win to make the state playoffs with a 4-8 league record.

The Warriors’ stay in the state playoffs was just as short, in a 3-0 loss at Cascade Christian in the first round.

But all the key ingredients return in 2019, and the Warriors are ready to make another charge at the league title, and a postseason run that lasts a little longer.

It’s all part of a new era in Warrenton sports, where league championships and state playoffs are becoming the norm.

“Warrenton is having a bit of a renaissance athletically,” said Warrenton coach Lennie Wolfe, who has seen most of the school’s success in his 28 years with the Warriors. “We’ve had some success in football, and came very close to qualifying for state in basketball. Wrestling had a great season, and we’ve got 47 out for track.”

THE LEAGUE

The old Lewis & Clark League is no more. Portland Christian is out, Taft and Willamina are in. Catlin Gabel is still a part of the new Coastal Range League.

Taft could be a factor. The Tigers finished 24-4 overall last season in the West Valley League and finished the season with a No. 1 ranking, but lost to La Pine in the semifinals. Taft also lost three key seniors, and may need a year to rebuild.

League co-champion Rainier “graduated two-thirds of their lineup, but they still have (Austin) Cantrall, the league Player of the Year, who should be tough on the hill. And Joey Tripp is back. They’ve got good athletes. They won state in football and qualified for state in basketball.”

Taft “graduated three kids who were all first team all-state,” Wolfe said. “They had 24 wins, but they graduated (Jack) Stempel, (Caleb) King and (Josh) Salsbery. Stempel and King had 14 of their 24 wins, and they have to replace four of their top five hitters. Do I expect them to be good? Yes. It’s going to be a good league.

Catlin Gabel, Clatskanie and Willamina round out the league.

“Six teams, and three are going to qualify for state,” Wolfe said. “It’s going to be pretty heated. I think this league has six teams that on any given day, could all beat one another.”

Losing James Helmen will hurt Clatskanie, he said, “but the (Dawson) Evenson kid is a pretty good pitcher. They graduated a number of kids, and it’s always tough when you lose a first team all-state infielder. He also would have been their No. 1 or 2 pitcher. But they have good athletes.”

THE WARRIORS

Warrenton had six all-league players last season, and all six return. Four were just sophomores last year, and three of those were on the first team. The Warriors also lost just one starter — all of which means that last year’s co-league championship could be just the start of a big run for Warrenton baseball.

Three seniors on this year’s roster include:

• Kaleo Kapua — “four-year letterman, .271 last year, left fielder, surprising quickness for a big guy with good pop in his bat,” Wolfe said.

• Dalton Knight — “three-year letterman, second team all-league, and when he’s not pitching, he will be in center field or at first base. Dalton has put in a lot of innings on the hill in his career. Last spring for the first time he put together a full season. He also demonstrated some hitting skills last summer.”

• Maverick Pedraza — “the hardest worker in the program. He’s not just in his third year of high school baseball, it’s his third year of baseball, period.”

The junior class is where it’s at for the Warriors.

The list includes Gabe Breitmeyer, “honorable mention all-league, middle infielder, and led the team in hitting last summer. He’s made some significant strides, especially on offense.”

As a pitcher, “he comes at a different angle (side arm), and the ball has some nice movement on it. When he concentrates on those mechanics, he’s tough.”

Alec Herrera, “will take on a different role this year. He’s been at third base, but he will truly be a utility player — first base, right field, second base. It’s been a few years since we’ve had someone like that.”

Devin Jackson, “third team all-state pitcher, I expect him to be strong on the hill. His development as a hitter from last year might surprise some people.” Jackson will play first base when he doesn’t pitch.

Austin Little, “third team all-state infielder, leadoff hitter, shortstop. He’s at a point where he’s starting to refine some things for a high-skill level high school player. He had hits in 21 of 22 games last year.”

Jacob Morrow, “first team all-state catcher, the first sophomore who’s done that at Warrenton. We’ve had some awfully good catchers. It’s fair to say that Jake is extremely solid behind the plate. And he’s getting better as a batter as well,” batting .397 last year, with a solo home run early this year.

The sophomores include Ryan Hoaglund and third baseman Duane Falls, who “hit just over .300 last year,” Wolfe said. “He’s making the transition to third from the outfield.”

Rounding out the roster will be Joel Schrader, a foreign exchange student from Germany, and freshmen Ethan Caldwell, Josh Earls, Mason Gloyn, Parker Greenawald and Nathan Streibeck.

Prediction: League champions, and all to themselves this year.

WARRENTON BASEBALL

Coach: Lennie Wolfe, 28th year

2018: 17-5 (10-2 league)

Playoffs: Lost to Cascade Christian (0-3) in first round state playoff.

All-league losses: None

All-league returners: Gabe Breitmeyer, Jr., Devin Jackson, Jr., Kale’o Kapua, Sr., Dalton Knight, Sr., Austin Little, Jr., Jacob Morrow, Jr.

Gary Henley is a sports reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 503-861-8493 or ghenley@dailyastorian.com.

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