Wallowa County baseball teams have not recently been known as powerhouse contenders. That may be changing.
The conclusion of the 2018 baseball season saw the Wallowa Valley Eagles combined team with its best record in years along with a trip to the second round of state playoffs.
The team finished a strong second in the Eastern League with an 11-3 league record and 20-7 overall.
The program underwent a number of changes coming into this season, including a revamped coaching staff. Mark Ramsden moved into the head coaching position. Geoffrey Hayward, Tanner Shelton and JR Collier filled out the assistant coaching slots.
“This is as far as Wallowa Valley team has ever made it,” Collier said. “We’re happy with how the players stepped up, and we’re happy with the program.”
The coach said that last year’s coaching staff focused on not necessarily building a winning season for the team, but trying to build a positive program that showed growth each year.
“We saw that this season,” Collier said. “People in town were excited, parents were excited and the players were excited; and those are all good things. We only lost to the number-one team in the state, and there’s no shame in that.”
Mother Nature was not kind in the early going of the season.
Collier believes that adversity actually helped contribute to the team’s success. Practicing indoors, the team concentrated on fundamentals.
“The weather forced us into gym space, a small space,” he said. “The good part of it is that it forces you to focus on small techniques. We were able to focus on individual drills like fielding. We spent four weeks doing that kind of stuff.”
The team played mostly errorless or one-error games throughout the season.
“That’s pretty rare for high school ball,” Collier said.
Team positivity was also cited as the key factor in the team’s success along with teamwork.
“There were different roles for different people,” he said. “We had a lot of freshmen who played pretty important roles for the team.”
The pitching staff also showed more depth than the previous season with specific players taking on relief roles meaning they had to ready at a moment’s notice.
“Everyone jumped in and worked hard and did what we needed them to do,” Collier said.
The coaching staff intends to open next season’s practice with a focus on the fundamentals, which will also help the expected new crop of players.
“We’ve got a whole new big group of kids coming in from the eighth grade, and we want to get them into the loop as quick as we can,” he said.
The team is losing five seniors, but the young players who played pivotal roles and the young players who didn’t get as much playing time should be ready to step up to the plate when next season comes around.
“We want next year to be a continuation of this season,” he said. “We hope to come in ready to start and go further –– we need to keep this momentum going.”