With only a couple of players with considerable varsity experience on the roster heading into this season, Philomath High's baseball program knew it would need to go through a period of growth and improvement before reaching a level that it has become accustomed to playing in past years.
Throw in a first week of games against two Class 4A powers and the challenge becomes even greater. But veteran coach Levi Webber doesn't shy away from playing those good teams as evidenced by Hidden Valley and Henley awaiting the Warriors on the early schedule.
"That's one thing I think about our nonleague schedule — it's going to be one of the tougher ones and we typically do that," Webber said after the Warriors lost to Henley 8-4 Friday for an 0-2 start. "Hidden Valley's got a super solid program and Henley, they're one of the perennial favorites to go back and win it this year."
Hidden Valley, which beat Philomath 12-2 Wednesday, and Henley through Friday had a combined 4-0 record and had outscored their opponents, 38-10.
"If we make a few more plays, we're right in that game," Webber said about the loss to Henley. "We can play with those teams. We've just got to shore up the little things on our end to make sure we can stay in those games."
Early on, it appeared the two ballclubs might just be involved in a high-scoring affair to the very end. The Hornets scored twice in the top of the first but Philomath went up 3-2 in the bottom half.
Leadoff batter Michael Slater walked and later scored when Brooks Stearns reached on an error. Brian McClelland later made it aboard on an infield single. Both Stearns and McClelland scored on a two-out double that Dylan Bennett knocked over the right fielder's head. He thought about trying to stretch it to third but got caught in a rundown and the inning ended.
In the second, Philomath tied the game, 4-4, on a two-out single to left by Slater to drive in Cameron Ordway, who had reached earlier on a walk. But the Warriors would get only one more hit the rest of the game.
"Offensively, I think we've got to get a little better and be more consistent," Webber said. "We've done a good job of getting into some counts and finding different ways to get guys on. But when other teams give us opportunities by making errors or walking people, we've got to find a way to take advantage."
Henley did pounce on Philomath's errors in the game. The visitors scored three in the fourth inning with good hitting but by also capitalizing on miscues, including a wild pitch that resulted in a run.
"They do a pretty good job of making you pay and putting runs on the board," Webber said. "Early in the game, they really did that."
McClelland started at pitcher for Philomath and allowed eight hits and five earned runs with four strikeouts and no walks. Adam Hernandez threw the final three and allowed four hits and one earned run with three strikeouts and a walk.
"Adam did a good job when he came in and shut them down," Webber said. "He threw really well, commanded the strike zone and threw some really good changeups and got some outs. I thought Brian was exceptional, too, he was just fine. I don't think we did a good of enough job behind him to have the success that he probably should have."
Philomath had just four hits in the contest with Slater going 2 for 3. But errors continued to be an issue.
"We have to get much better defensively; I think that's the one thing where we've really let our pitchers down," Webber said. "On Wednesday, we made seven errors against Hidden Valley, which isn't going to win you a lot of games. Today, we made enough errors early in the game that kept them in it and gave them extra opportunities."
Philomath's roster is a thin right now with Garrett Blowers missing time with an injury. Webber said he's already seen improvement from a few players two games into the season.
"Dylan (Bennett) did a good job today; he made all the plays you need to make out there," Webber said about the left fielder. "We're having to throw guys who are not accustomed to being in those spots but they've adjusted well. It's just one of those things — it's a new team."
Philomath is scheduled to host Stayton at 4:30 p.m. Monday in its Oregon West opener.
Henley 8, Philomath 4
Friday at Philomath
HENLEY (2-0) 220 310 0 — 8 12 2
PHILOMATH (0-2) 310 000 0 — 4 4 4
DP—Henley 1. LOB—Henley 9, Philomath 3.
South Albany 9, Philomath 7
Friday at Albany
Team notes: The JV team dropped to 0-2 with the loss. ... The Warriors are scheduled to play Monday at home against Stayton.