By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Sliding into summer league

Fans lounged in the bleachers and in camping chairs Wednesday, enjoying the warm weather and a precursor to summer, which arrives in two weeks. The setting couldn’t have been any less pressure packed, but McMinnville coach Darren Bland did everything he could to instill a bit to put his players in learning positions.

To create some artificial pressure, Bland and Crescent Valley’s coach decided to squeeze out two five-inning games Wednesday. To add to the intrigue, each game would start in the third inning so the teams could play out the final innings of two seven-inning games and work on late-game scenarios. The move fit right in with the theme of summer league. Teams play as many games as they can to get the experience for the regular season when things matter.

“You’re building toward next spring where there will be pressure,” Bland said.

“The lack of pressure is bad (in the summer). I want pressure to be there.”

Oregon Mainline Paving won the first game 2-0 and the second 9-4. Bland said his team created a bit of drama late in the second game by giving up some late runs, but it was the first game where OMP was able to get some work in. Leading 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, outfielder Zach Rhoads reached on an error. Rhoads moved to second on a single by David Brosius, and he advanced to third on a ground out by Ryan Dix. Rhoads then scored on a passed ball.

Rhoads also scored in the second inning after reaching on an error. Brosius moved him to second on a single, and Rhoads ended up scoring on an error by the catcher. Oregon Mainline Paving finished with two hits in the game but no RBIs. Mac played station-to-station to score, and since runs were low in game one, it put pressure on the defense to hold.

“There are some pressure pitches and pressure plays defensively that needed to be made,” Bland said.

In the second game, Mac led 9-1 but was still out hit in the game 6-5. Bland said there were a few base running mishaps, and it’s with things like that where his players need to create the habits that will help them in the spring.

Unlike the past two seasons, this year OMP begins the summer as an experienced team. Mac won the Pacific Conference in 2011 but lost a lot of seniors and spent 2012 rebuilding. Young players spent the last two spring and summer seasons playing upwards of 60 games, and this spring Mac finished second in the conference.

“Two seasons ago, we were silly young,” Bland said. “They’ve been playing 66-70 games for two or three years. … You definitely see some growth.”

Instead of spending the summer searching for varsity starters at more than half of the positions, Bland said he’s searching for a third starting pitcher and two starters to join the seven returning varsity starters from the spring. He said his team is no longer young. It’s time to graduate to a more advanced class.

“We should be an AP class this year,” he said.

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