Penguins Persevere to Playoffs

Grant Fisher hurls a curveball with the scoreboard running. "If the score doesn't matter, then turn the scoreboard off," head coach Mark Magdaleno said. (Photo credit: Ryan Robbins / The Independent)

A thin line is drawn between success and failure. Wins and losses, postseason success and recruitment are all factors that make or break a season.

Clark’s baseball team figured out how to cross that line. Despite being ousted by Tacoma Community College in the super regional playoff games on May 21, Clark pieced together a respectable season out of what many thought would be a repeat of last year’s disappointment, going 14-10 in their region and 21-24 overall.

The effort got off to a rough start, with the Penguins winning only two of their first thirteen games.

After missing the playoffs in Spring 2015, adjustments had to be made to the team’s direction.

Returning pitcher Chase Vanek dropped baseball altogether over the summer to work 18-hour days on construction sites.

“It was good for me,” Vanek said. “It gave me a chance to take a break from the game and grow up as a person.”

Vanek’s maturity was needed after the departure of head coach Brett Neffendorf on Jan. 14. It was up to the new head coach Mark Magdaleno to rally the arms and bats of this year’s team in hopes of exceeding expectations, which were admittedly low, according to coaches and players.

“Starting the season 2-11… you would probably start doubting yourself, you start doubting each other, you start doubting everything, because that’s just human nature,” Magdaleno said. “But we didn’t.”

The Penguins rallied to a 11-5 record in March on the strength of their 16 pitchers.

“We were supposed to do the worst in our region,” said sophomore catcher Ian Sugrue.

The Penguins held a grudge after early-season doubts but used the opportunity to prove expectations wrong during the back half of the season.
With a chip on their shoulder, Clark looked to finish their regular season strong with a climactic back-to-back doubleheader against Linn-Benton Community College on May 13-14. Clark was tied with Linn-Benton at No. 4 in the NWAC South Region rankings, with the top four seeds qualifying for the postseason.

For Clark to clinch a playoff berth, they would need to win three out of the four games.

Vanek pitched the entire first game on May 13, which Clark won 7-2, but the Roadrunners evened the series, taking the second game 3-7.

During the first game on May 14 in Albany, Oregon, the Penguins’ bats came alive, bringing in 17 runs to the Roadrunners’ six. Two Penguins, left fielder Brandon Zimmerman and second baseman Marco Murillo, both hit their first home runs of the season in that game.

“They were getting pretty deep into their bullpen,” said Zimmerman during an Indy Mic Podcast interview.

“We could see they were getting tired, and we just had to do our jobs and connect,” Murillo added.

Clark went up three runs in the first inning of the deciding game. Linn-Benton brought around two runners of their own in the bottom of the first and one each in the second and fourth innings to put the pressure on Clark.

In the top of the fifth, Clark brought in two runs of their own and held that lead to finish off the Roadrunners 5-4 and qualify for the NWAC super regionals.

The Penguins were unable to carry their momentum into the playoffs, however, and were eliminated after falling to Tacoma Community College 0-7 on May 20 and 6-7 on May 21 in Ontario, Oregon.

Despite the quick playoff exit, the fact that Clark made the playoffs at all is vindicating for a team that was projected to be the worst in their region.

Magdaleno admits to being behind on recruiting for next season but looks to dominate recruitment in the Portland-Vancouver area.

“That’s going to be the top priority for us,” Magdaleno said. “Controlling our backyard.”

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