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Roll, Storm: Filling in the missing pieces

Jake Branham2014_#2

The Chemeketa Storm baseball team sits in last place through seven games

Pitching, defense, batting, and chemistry: This combination makes a baseball team great, but it isn’t easy to obtain.

During the first two weeks of league play, injuries and key players’ inability to play have become obstacles for the Storm as the team strives for success.

This, along with a lack of offensive production, has played a major role in the Storm’s 2-5 record in the NWACC South Division.

Since the season began, the team has played without two returning starters from a year ago, shortstop Brandon Groat and catcher Jake Branham.

Groat was redshirted for the year, while Branham suffered a career-ending injury before the season began.

Branham’s injury meant that the team was down to two catchers: second-year payer Hector Ferrer, who was not been eligible to play in league games early on, freshman Hank Elliot, who unexpectedly picked up the entire workload.

The Storm also are without returning first-baseman Noah Westerhuis, who sustained a broken wrist in non-league play and is out for the season.

Freshman outfielder Gehrett Moser, who is fourth on the team in batting with a .341 average, recently suffered an MCL-sprain and also will be out of the lineup for a few weeks.

Groat, Branham, and Westerhuis produced sophomore leadership both on the field and in the dugout, which created energy and helped maintain team chemistry, according to players and coaches.

Currently, the Storm has four returning players in the starting lineup. Only two are hitting above .200 on the season thus far: Brenden Shaffer, at .371, and Ryan Snow, at .262.

Offensively, the Storm currently is tied for the second-worst batting average in the league.

Despite the injuries, optimism continues to run deep at Chemeketa.

Freshman Outfielder Justin Gardner said, “We’ve had a lot of guys get hurt, guys that were a big part of our team, but it shouldn’t and hasn’t played much of an impact.

“We have a very versatile group of guys who are always ready to get in and make a difference on the field. Sure, we’ve had guys get hurt. But we just need to play one pitch at a time still and not let the game get too fast.”

The players agree that it’s not time to hit the panic button. The Storm may be in last place, but it has a strong pitching staff that possesses the second-best team ERA in the league at 1.81 behind Clark, which is in second-place with a 5-3 record.

Pitching and defense are there, but what’s missing is the production and execution on the offensive end as a unit.

The team hasn’t had the timely hits down the stretch to extend the lead or keep it in the game, or key team rallies when they are needed most.

At this stage, Chemeketa needs the core of the team, its sophomores, to step up and be more efficient at the plate and in the dugout; this will help establish the leadership and chemistry.

Shaffer, the returning sophomore third baseman who is leading the team in batting average, said, “Most of us just need to relax and play the game instead of viewing it as an individual job.

“Once we remember how to play team baseball and work together as one again, we will be right where we want to be.”

What also makes a team great is its mentality, the ability to deal with failure, and its resiliency in dealing with obstacles and struggles along the way to reach its goals.

The players agree that this team is the hardest-working roster in the NWACC, despite the won-loss record.

Gardner said, “There aren’t a lot of adjustments that need to be made. I feel like we’re really close to putting the pieces all together. The more we play and the more we fail, the closer it feels we are to our goals as a team and being where we want to be.

“We have always been a tight group, and our relationship with one another and as a team continues to grow now that we have been through some struggles already this season.”

Dealing with failure and persevering as a unit is all the Storm family is taught and knows how to do. Working together will produce success.

Roll, Storm.

– Jake Branham

Reader’s note: Jake Branham is a veteran Storm baseball player who was forced to retire this year because of injuries. He is sharing his insights on the team this season with the Chemeketa Courier.

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