By Tra Friesen in Sports
After going 21-21 last season, Clark’s baseball team has its eye on making its first playoff berth since joining the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.
Three quarters of the way through the season, the team is sitting at seventh in the NWAACC and third in the South Region. The team is well on its way to another 20-win season and is in the thick of a three-team playoff race.
Last year Clark was in the Western Region of the NWAACC with Tacoma, Lower Columbia, Pierce, Centralia, Green River and Grays Harbor colleges. South Region rival Linn-Benton Community College dropped its baseball program because of funding, so Clark was moved into the South to balance the region, according to head coach Don Freeman.
Now Clark is in the South Region for all outdoor sports including cross-country, baseball, soccer, softball and track, but is still in the West for the indoor sports volleyball and basketball, according to Director of Athletics Charles Guthrie.
“Every league has two to three teams that are really good, and some that aren’t so good, and this is no different,” Freeman said.
In order to make the playoffs in the South, Clark has to finish with one of the top two records. That differs from previous years; in the West, the second and third best teams competed in a three-game playoff series for the final playoff spot, according to Guthrie.
Clark is battling Southwestern Oregon Community College and Lane Community College for one of two playoff spots. Guthrie said he expects the team to reach the postseason and compete for a championship.
“If we keep having the success we’ve been having we should be in pretty good shape,” Freeman said.
Sophomore shortstop Kyle Vanderkin leads the team in hitting, with a .435 batting average. Brayden Maney and David Mason are also having good hitting seasons batting .351 and .320 respectively.
Multiple colleges are interested in Vanderkin, including Gonzaga, Western Oregon and Bellevue, according to Freeman.
“We’ve got a pretty good offense; our pitching is ahead of our offense and we hope our offense starts to blossom,” Freeman said. Clark leads the league in team earned run average.
“Right now our top [pitcher] is [Colton] Eckert, yet [Travis] Krueger’s not far away,” Freeman said.
Both Krueger and Eckert have each thrown three consecutive shutout games. Krueger is undefeated and Eckert has an ERA of .85.
The NWAACC is one of four leagues in the country that use wood bats. Because of the dramatic difference in a wood bat’s “sweet spot,” NWAACC teams tend to play “small ball,” which includes a lot of bunting.
“That’s how you score runs and put pressure on the defense,” Freeman said.
Because of the extra pressure applied by the difference in play, Freeman said he stresses the importance of defense.
“Our defense is really what’s been holding us in all of the games,” Freeman said. “If you play good, solid defense you got a chance in any game you’re playing in.”
Since becoming head coach four years ago, Freeman has made serious strides. Freeman said he was told in his first year that his team wouldn’t win five games. It won 11.
Freeman has yet to make a playoff appearance while at Clark but said he likes his team’s odds for entering the postseason.
“It’s going to be a battle, which is good,” Freeman said. “That’s what we like.”