For the first time in his 10 years as Philomath High's baseball coach, Levi Webber, doesn't have a true shortstop ready to roll on varsity. Putting a capable athlete in the 6-hole is very important with that position making a lot of plays on the ball.
Senior Marshall Brattain, who has played a lot of third base in the past, appears to be the man to take it over — at least when he's not on the mound.
"He's going to have to bounce over there and he'll be there the majority of innings," Webber said. "We could see a freshman, Cameron Ordway, come up and play some innings at shortstop when Marshall pitches, maybe Brooks (Stearns) out there if need be."
Brattain's a veteran of the baseball diamond and so Webber has no qualms about him being able to handle the switch.
"I'm not worried about him; he's just got to learn a different position," Webber said. "He's played enough baseball that he'll pick it up pretty quick."
Philomath lost a good group of experienced players off last year's squad, including pitchers Nolan Jackson and Kenan Conner. Brattain returns after a solid spring last year and junior Brian McClelland appears to be in position to get innings.
"He pitched for us a little bit last year and played in the infield towards the end," Webber said about McClelland. "He's got a shot to be pretty good. We had a little intrasquad yesterday and both he and Marshall threw and they both looked pretty good. That was good to see for their first real outing on the mound."
After those two, however, Webber said he has a list of about seven guys who could be factors.
"It's really going to be about who wants to step up and who can get outs and throw strikes and keep us in games more than anything," Webber said. "It's a different club than last year; it's not quite as experienced."
One spot where the Warriors bring back great experience will be behind the plate. Stearns, now a senior, will be depended upon as a team leader.
"He's a guy that we can definitely lean on out on the field and a guy who's going to lead the staff," Webber said. "He's been a part of it and knows what it takes and he works his tail off. He's a good role model for those kids to look at when he's out on the field for how to play the game."
Around the rest of the infield, senior Michael Slater returns as the starter at second base. Slater appears to be penciled in as the No. 1 or No. 2 bat in the lineup after finishing last spring strong. Over at third, junior Brody Hiner and junior Dylan Bennett will get innings along with Brattain, if needed. And at first base, it could be Bennett or McClelland or others.
"We had a lot of experienced guys who were three-, four-year starters (that PHS lost to graduation) and this year, we have a few of those guys but we also have a few guys that have not very much varsity experience coming in, if any at all," Webber said. "It'll be a little bit different but if we can play to our potential level, we could definitely compete for a league title."
In the outfield, senior Calvin Snuggerud should be in either right or center. Sophomores Adam Hernandez and Garrett Blowers are others who will be covering ground in the outfield, although Blowers enters the season trying to work through a hip injury.
"There's going to be a learning curve out there but the nice thing is they have some speed so hopefully for whatever there is for lack of experience, they can make up in athleticism," Webber said. "We did the full intrasquad yesterday (Thursday) and they looked pretty good."
Of those in the program, 14 are freshmen.
"I really like our freshmen class; we've got 14 kids and I think all of them have a chance to be pretty good," Webber said. "It's a pretty athletic class, big kids, strong kids, fast kids, so we have an opportunity with those guys to grow into it."
The number of inexperienced players is so high that Webber hopes to pick up some JVII games to try to get those athletes innings.
Philomath heads into a revamped Oregon West that includes newcomers Sisters, Woodburn and Sweet Home.
"The big thing that we found out this week is all of our games with Sisters and Woodburn are going to be stacked," Webber said. "Those are two of our longest trips, so we'll be getting out of school pretty early to play games at 3 o'clock. I'm not a huge fan of that, but we just have to roll with the punches."
The Warriors have familiar faces, JJ and Lance Faxon, back as assistants along with Ron Morella helping out. Ryan Dillon comes in as the new JV head coach and former Newport standout Sam Imbler-Bremner will be assisting as well.