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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Tim Martinez: Evergreen baseball endures tough start, succeeds

Baseball

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: April 23, 2024, 8:57pm
5 Photos
Evergreen players Joey Marin (7) and Ace Gutierrez celebrate the Plainsmen&rsquo;s 4-0 win over Kelso in a 3A Greater St. Helens League baseball game at Evergreen Sports Complex on Monday.
Evergreen players Joey Marin (7) and Ace Gutierrez celebrate the Plainsmen’s 4-0 win over Kelso in a 3A Greater St. Helens League baseball game at Evergreen Sports Complex on Monday. (PHOTOS BY Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Injuries decimated the depth of the Evergreen baseball team early this season.

In fact, at one point, coach Chad Burchett only had nine players available for the varsity squad.

“In the 20 years I’ve coached varsity baseball, I’ve never had that on a varsity baseball team,” Burchett said.

After starting the season 1-4 — which included dropping a three-game series to 3A Greater St. Helens League rival Prairie — the Plainsmen have run off 11 wins in a row.

And no win was bigger than the 11th — a 4-0 win over top-ranked Kelso on Monday, handing the Hilanders their first loss of the season.

“We’re here to fight,” senior Will Goth said. “We didn’t know what this year was going to be. We’ve scrapped and scrapped and scrapped. We just showed what we can do right here.”

Injuries —including one to Jaydon Crace, the team’s lone returning all-leaguer — put the Plainsmen in a hole to start the season. That hole felt especially deep after three lopsided losses to Prairie.

“After we got our butts kicked three times in a row, the boys went to the outfield and I said ‘Look, there’s nobody here but us,’ ” Burchett said. “We’ve got to pick each other up. We’ve got to start having great at-bats. We’ve got to play great defense and pitch.”

With a core group of 11 players to rotate into the lineup, that wasn’t always easy. Often, it meant players being put in positions where they hadn’t played much before.

“We went out to practice one day and said everybody’s taking fly balls; everybody’s taking ground balls,” Burchett said. “I look at my lineup card and go ‘this guy is going to move here. This guy is going to move there. This guy is coming in to pitch.’

“But every guy has taken to it. Every guy is like ‘hey, I might be right field. I might be catching. I might be pitching. And they’ve just run with it. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch.”

And then, the wins started coming, starting with a doubleheader sweep at Seaside, Ore., in late March.

“We started to win some games that weren’t necessarily pretty, but we got the job done,” Goth said. “And it kept going and we’re here.”

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Senior Landon Rayner added the change started at practice.

“Focusing at practice, knowing that we had to get that friggin’ ball on that bat,” Rayner said. “Getting on base, that was our main thing, getting on base. And we’ve been doing that a lot better.”

It was the recipe that worked Monday against Kelso.

Joey Marin and Skyler Heys started the rally with a pair of one-out singles. Kodi Cook walked to load the bases, and Caden Livingston gave Evergreen a 1-0 lead with another walk.

Rayner added an RBI single to make it 2-0. After Cook scored on a wild pitch, Ryno Oldham Catabay capped the rally with another run-scoring single.

Burnett noted that it was the bottom of the order that got Evergreen going on Monday.

“Early in the year, I don’t think we had guys that wanted to get up with running in scoring position,” Burchett said. “Now we have guys who want to be the guy. I mean, Caden Livingston breaks it open today. Our No. 9 hitter was the guy that gets us on the board.”

And it’s not just hitting. Evergreen’s pitchers have been competing, and they have the confidence that their defense will make plays in the field.

“Our confidence is building,” Burchett said. “I don’t think a lot of people outside this dugout probably thought we could do much with Kelso. But our boys believe.”

Kelso bounced back to beat Evergreen 8-0 on Tuesday in Kelso to lock down the 3A GSHL title, something Burchett thought might be coming.

“I think we’re going to run into a hornets nest tomorrow,” Burchett said on Monday.

Even so, Evergreen’s recent win streak has clinched a spot in the postseason for the Plainsmen. And with the playoffs looming, Monday’s win showed that Evergreen can play with any team in the state.

“This has been coming because it took us 11 wins to get here,” Rayner said. “Eleven wins for people to notice, and now they know we’re here.”

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