Redmond High’s baseball team has been on top of the state for part of the young season.
After a 2-0 start, the Panthers took over the No. 1 ranking in Class 5A, according to the Oregon School Activities Association. But without playing a game, they dropped to No. 4 on March 19. Then, after edging out now-No. 10 Putnam 9-7 March 21, the Panthers returned to No. 1.
Redmond coach Doug Taylor blames the drop on a March 18 loss by Milwaukie, which the Panthers beat 7-3 in their March 13 opener.
“It’s all opponent’s record, opponent’s opponent’s record,” Taylor said March 19.
While coaches know not to take such rankings seriously this early in the season, it’s been a nice accomplishment for a team that wasn’t even able to practice outdoors in Redmond until March 18, after their first game. Because of recent record snow, the Panthers first time seeing a field was at the Milwaukie game, where the players got some practice time in before the opener.
Though they did get to use batting cages earlier in the season, it was nice to be out on their actual field last week. But a muddy infield means they won’t be able to play on the varsity diamond until after this week’s spring break.
“It’s nice that we don’t have to throw little squish balls,” said junior shortstop Cooper Browning. “We can actually get used to playing and throwing on real dirt.”
The 3-0 Panthers are playing in Pendleton this week. They are scheduled to open the Red Lion Buckaroo Classic Monday against La Salle Prep of Milwaukie, take on North Medford and David Douglas Tuesday, and wrap-up the spring break tournament Wednesday against an opponent to be determined.
The early-season victories were also Redmond’s first time seeing live pitching. Taylor was pleased with the Panthers’ base-running. He said they had eight or nine stolen bases in the first two victories against Milwaukie and Franklin.
He was also pleased with the pitching of Quinn Robertson and Chase Uhrich, both of whom pitch exclusively.
“We just want to do what we can to support our team and win,” Uhrich said.
But they are not the only threats on the mound. Junior Andrew McKague was a first-team all-Intermountain Conference selection in 2018 as a pitcher and second-team as a utility player.
“Staff-wise, he might be our No. 1,” Taylor said of McKague, who starts at catcher when not pitching.
Other players who will pitch include sophomores Rhett Haigh, an honorable mention all-league selection as a freshman, and Austin Carter.
“We have a lot of pitchers,” McKague said. “That helps with getting people experience on the mound. We have good team chemistry. Most of us have played together since we were 8.”
While the team has only two seniors, Redmond has a great deal of experience. Five juniors started two years ago as freshmen and others were varsity contributors.
“We can’t use the excuse that we’re young anymore,” Taylor said.
The more experienced players like being in that position, McKague said.
“Freshman year, we got to learn from the seniors,” he said. “We worked our way up to upperclassmen. Now it’s our turn to help out the younger guys and pave the way for the future.”
While it’s nice to not have to contend with the Bend schools anymore, Taylor said the Intermountain Conference competition will still be tough, particularly Hood River Valley, which is now No. 19 in the state, and No. 12 Pendleton.
Redmond is scheduled to open league play April 12 with a doubleheader at The Dalles. The Panthers finished league play 5-11 in 2018 (9-16 overall). That tied them with Ridgeview for third place, but the Ravens claimed the last play-in spot because of a tiebreaker.
With good team speed, Redmond primarily needs to work on putting the ball in play, Taylor said.
“When you put the ball in play, good things happen with our speed,” he said.
Several players are also members of Redmond’s basketball team, which was playing better at the end of the season, before weather canceled games that could have gotten them into the playoffs. They hope to keep that momentum going in baseball.
“I think we’re capable of making a run for the league title and a push for the playoffs,” said Browning, who suffered an injury as Redmond’s quarterback in football, but returned during basketball season. “We have quite a few players who played basketball. Winning is contagious.”
— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@ redmondspokesman.com