Heritage baseball rebounds after being thrown to wolves

Character-building season sets Heritage up for success

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

He was supposed to be a role player last season. He turned into The Guy.

The guy was supposed to carry the Heritage baseball team. The guy who was the focal point for opposing pitchers.

Dakota Clevidence acknowledged that he did not handle the pressure well last season.

Baseball primer

COLLEGE-BOUND PLAYERS: Camas P Tyler Hallead (Central Washington), Skyview IF Reilly Henderson (Western Oregon), Union SS Seaver Whalen (Santa Clara), Mountain View P JT Kaul (Lewis-Clark State), Columbia River C Michael McCann (Seattle U.).

SOPHOMORES NOW JUNIORS: Skyview started seven sophomore last season. Now those sophomores are juniors — Alec Chaney, Austin Greene, Brooks Hanson, Jordan Freese, James Brooks, Adam Walker and Curtis Perrin — giving the Storm a lot of experience.

HONORED CHIEFTAINS: Columbia River brings back an all-state player (Clark Bryant) and a pair of two-team all-leaguers (McCann and Oscar Golberg), plus a pitcher who went 9-0 last season (Seth Rayburn).

MAKING NOISE IN BATTLE GROUND: Battle Ground is off to a 5-0, and the Tigers have averaged 14 runs in those five wins.

ATHLETIC HAWKS: Hockinson boasts a roster with a lot of athletes with success in other sports — Jared Gomez (golf), Dylan Butler (swimming), Dylan Osborne (swimming), Jesse Tonkinson (football), Taylor Rennaker (basketball) and Taylor Ellensohn (basketball).

For team-by-team coaches’ reports, see post on The Columbian’s high schools blog here

After all, it happened so quickly. One minute there was a Heritage baseball team full of promise. The next, there was a team full of inexperienced players.

When six players were kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons, everything changed. The result was a 1-17 season.

The Timberwolves had no idea at the time, but in a way, all that happened last season has made them stronger.

"I'm proud beyond words," said Clevidence, a senior first baseman and pitcher who hit three home runs in Heritage's season opener this year and has driven in 16 runs through the first five games. "What we had to go through last year shows real character. We battled through a situation like that. It's a great feeling to start out to strong."

Heritage is 3-2 through Monday's win over Hockinson.

"It was a great opportunity. It was good to see varsity pitching," said Jarod Luedecker, a sophomore second baseman who picked up varsity experience last season. "Nothing surprises me like it did last year. I got to see what it was like to play varsity."

Already two wins better than in 2012, the Timberwolves have dreams of making it to the postseason. But they know there are no guarantees.

"We don't take wins for granted," Luedecker said. "We're looking to do great things this year. We want to get that good feeling of winning back. Our team is really motivated."

Heritage coach Mitch Ratigan said the hazing incident that occurred last year was a lesson learned. Not just with his baseball team, but within the entire athletic department at Heritage.

"The culture of the school has completely flipped," Ratigan said, adding that younger athletes saw that there are consequences to actions, even to stars of a team.

While the win-loss record suffered last year, there were positive things happening with the program. New go-to guys emerged.

"We expect to be in the thick of things this year because a lot of our kids played so much together," Ratigan said.

After the high school season, many of the athletes played on the same team throughout the summer.

"We got two seasons with the core group," Ratigan said.

Clevidence has shown what a difference a year can make, as well as a changed approach to the game.

"He was going to be a complementary player, and then he became the guy other teams were trying to shut down. He struggled," Ratigan said. "Now he's off to a fast start as a focal point in our offense."

Clevidence said he put too much pressure on himself after all those other guys were kicked off the team. Just like that he thought he had to lead the team by himself.

"In some ways, it was a blessing. It made me a better player. I had to learn to let the game come to me," Clevidence said. "I just learned the game can beat you down if you let it. You have to focus on the positive rather than the negative."

So far, it has been a lot of positive for Clevidence.

He hit three home runs against Columbia River, then showed it was not a fluke with multiple hits in three of the next four games.

"I attribute it to all my coaches who have helped me," he said. "They told me I should be finding pitches I want to hit rather than force myself to hit when it's not necessarily my pitch. I focus on having great at-bats and letting the rest happen."

Luedecker said he wants to make the all-league team and come up clutch whenever his team needs him.

Clevidence said he expects this team to stick together.

"I want everyone to buy in to what we're trying do this year and take this team to the full potential we have," he said.

This Heritage baseball team, with all that it went through, is full of promise. No matter the score.