Lewis & Clark League baseball fans spent much of the 2008 season debating about which team would win the league title - Clatskanie or Rainier?
When it was all said and done, the league's No. 1 seed to the state playoffs went to an old standby - the Warrenton Warriors.
Late-season doubleheader sweeps over both the Tigers and Columbians helped Warrenton walk off with the top spot.
The Warriors started league play 3-2 last year, then reeled off five straight doubleheader sweeps to finish at 13-2. They beat Clatskanie in two out of three games to earn the league's No. 1 seed to state.
Warrenton went on to post a 16-3 win over Regis in a first-round state playoff, before falling to Colton 4-3 in the quarterfinals.
They lost a few key seniors, but the Warriors are back to challenge again in 2009. And even with one of his youngest teams ever, Lennie Wolfe's squad will still put up a strong battle in the L&C.
The roster rundown, by position:
PitcherThe youth definitely shows on the field, especially on the mound. Warrenton's three primary pitchers will be sophomores Reese Johnson, Billy Kerr and Cody Mahar.
Sophomore Thomas McFadden and junior Josh Wheatley will also see action on the hill.
"All five have thrown," Wolfe said. "Cody threw in virtually all the JV games last year. Reese threw a ton for his age group, and Billy threw very well as a freshman last year.
"It will be a little like last year, when we had to play a lot more defense," Wolfe said. "I don't anticipate any of our guys having high strikeout totals. They'll throw strikes, and we'll try to get teams to put the ball in play into places where we can make plays.
"A lot of the pitching rotation will come down to what allows us to become the best team we can be defensively."
CatcherMcFadden is back behind the plate, after a solid freshman year last season.
"He did an outstanding job defensively last year," Wolfe said. "It was a relatively new position for him, and by the time the season was over, he was blocking the ball very well, and he showed that he has a strong arm.
"Defensively he surpassed any expectations I had. That was one of the real keys to our success last year. He's gotten bigger and stronger, and he's recovering from foot surgery he had in the winter, so I expect him to have a much better year offensively."
First BaseKerr will man the position when he's not pitching, with sophomore Alex Carlson at first when Kerr is on the mound.
Kerr (three home runs, 18 RBIs last year) is the closest thing to a power hitter the Warriors have.
"We didn't have a lot of extra-base hits last year," Wolfe said. "We'll need to be a team that puts the ball in play and moves people around.
"One thing that we have that we didn't have last year is some pretty decent speed in the top half of the order. We'll need those guys to get on base, and the guys behind them to put the ball in play."
Kerr will bat anywhere from third to fifth in the order.
Second BaseWheatley "has done a good job of learning what we do, and I'm anticipating that he will be a good middle infielder for us," Wolfe said. "He's one of the quicker players we have. He will be one of the guys at the top of the order."
Still recovering from an illness over the winter, Wheatley will move to shortstop when Johnson pitches, and Alex Carlson would move to second.
Third BaseJunior Tyler Miller was the ultimate utility player last year, as he saw action at six positions.
This year, "we'll leave him at third, and give him a chance to develop," Wolfe said. "He's one of the quicker guys in the program, and Tyler has worked very hard in the weight room, along with Kerr and Wheatley."
ShortstopJohnson moves to short, after playing second base much of last season.
"Defensively he had a very good year," Wolfe said. "We'll expect more from Reese offensively this year, and I think he will be up to that challenge. He could end up being our No. 3 hitter. He's a good contact hitter and can put the ball in play."
OutfieldThe lone senior, Beau Torres, will be in center, with Mahar in left and sophomore Matthew Carlson in right.
Torres "has been outstanding defensively," Wolfe said. "He's batted eighth or ninth in the order, and this year I'm hoping he can make enough contact to bat one or two. Beau is very fast, and if he can put the ball in play on the ground, he'll be a real problem for people."
Added depth in the outfield will be junior Alex Hoggard, sophomore Matthew Davis, and freshmen David Kelley and Tanner Middleton.
"It's safe to say that this is my youngest team ever," Wolfe said. "But we knew that this was coming. This was going to be the leanest year we've ever had."
Warrenton will not field a junior varsity team this year.
"We have a pretty good number of kids playing baseball in the eighth-grade class," Wolfe added. "A lot of teams are in the same boat."
Including Neah-Kah-Nie, which will not play a varsity baseball schedule this year, dropping the Lewis & Clark League to just five teams.
The top three will likely be Clatskanie, Rainier and Warrenton - what order will be anybody's guess.
"The frontrunner would have to be Clatskanie," Wolfe said. "They were co-champs last year, and they definitely return the most.
"They have at least three capable arms in (Trevor) Marioni, (K.C.) Taylor and (Kirby) Wemmer. They've got a four-year starter at catcher (Eli Pesio). They have a lot of experience back."
After that, the Columbians have a talented pool of athletes to draw from, while "Vernonia lost some pretty important starters, but they return (Byron) Schorzman and three or four others who are athletic," Wolfe said.
"Initially, people will look at Clatskanie and Rainier, with Vernonia and Warrenton battling for the third spot," Wolfe said. "They were probably saying that last year, and we threw a monkey wrench into that. Maybe we can do that again.
"We'll have to do it a little differently than last year," he added. "We'll be young, so the learning curve may be a little different. But we'll have the same goal as always - try to win league and qualify for state, and if we can manage to improve throughout the season, then we can be in the hunt."
CoachesIn addition to Wolfe (402 career wins, with 16 state playoff appearances in 17 years at Warrenton), the Warriors have Jacoby Marshall, along with volunteer assistants Nate McBride and Zach Gantenbein.
"We're pretty fortunate as a community to have those guys come back and give something back to the Warrenton program," Wolfe said. "I don't imagine there are many high school coaching staffs that have this many coaches with college experience."