The saying goes that the best defense is a good offense. Why wait for the charge to come to you when you can knock it right out of the ballpark? And now, heading into the West Regional playoff tournament with the Northwest Conference title securely under its belt, the Linfield baseball team has proved just how true the adage is.
And standing at the helm of that destructive offensive force are senior shortstop Kelson Brown, junior utility player Cole Bixenman and sophomore outfielder Zach Boskovich (the Bs).
The three of them lead nearly every offensive category for the team in one way or another. The powerhouse trio has played an influential role in the Wildcats’ rise to dominance this season. To add insult to injury, Brown, Bixenman and Boskovich fall in sequential order in the batting lineup at the third, fourth and fifth innings, respectively, wreaking havoc on opposing pitchers. Against Pacific Lutheran University on May 2 (when the ’Cats won 8-5), the Bs combined for more than 10 hits and 10 RBIs.
And there’s no end in sight.
The saying goes that athletes aren’t born, they’re made. Hours of grueling practice, miserable weather conditions and intense competitions mold people into the athletes they become. It’s a combination of innate skill, dedication and desire.
“All the hard work, going to practice, being confident in myself and the team: It’s paying off,” Brown said.
The Bs, in true sportsman-like fashion, gave credit not only to one another for each success attained this season but to the rest of the team, as well.
“Knowing that my teammates are doing so well kind of takes some of the pressure off of me,” Bixenman said.
It’s the team mentality: There’s no “I” in “team.”
The Bs all described practice as a combination of disciplined, choreographed action with an air of relaxation.
“[Coach] Brosius has made a laid-back atmosphere where we’re focused on goals more than anything else,” Brown said. “Because we’re focused on goals, even when we have more freedom, we don’t screw around. It’s a perfect practice plan.”
Bixenman concurred, saying that the free-flowing nature of practice allows for them “to do their thing.”
“It’s mostly disciplined, though,” he said. “You need it for practice to work.”
It’s not hard to imagine, especially after failing to make the playoffs last year, that pressure might be building for the Bs. However, all three said that is not the case, at least not anymore.
“There was some pressure early in the season, yeah,” Brown said. “But during the last three seasons, not so much. Every guy expects to win, so it’s not a factor anymore.”
“We’re peaking at the right time,” Boskovich added.
Bixenman said that because everyone is doing so well, it’s just an overall relief.
“It makes it easier for everyone,” he added. “There was some pressure during the middle of the season, but I was still always confident in the team, and the confidence we have in each other plays out on the field.”
Through each season, memories are made — ones that stay with players throughout the rest of the year.
For Brown, it was the Chapman series that was the pivotal point.
“As a team, we knew we were good, but we didn’t know how good,” he said. “It was a great week of practice, and a wacky travel schedule, but after we beat [Chapman] the first two games, our confidence was built then.”
Brown said it was the best pitching he faced all year, which, in essence, only made him a more confident player.
Bixenman recalled an earlier game against Western Oregon University and a talented pitcher.
“We hit really well against him, and it just felt really good,” he said.
“Nothing I do personally is good enough,” Boskovich said. “I need to work on not wasting bats and staying focused at the plate.”
As athletes are prone to say, all three players agreed that they could use improvement in a panoply of areas.
“I know I can improve,” Brown said. “I have a problem with jumping at the ball. I have to work on not being too anxious and letting the ball come to me, not me to it. But that is what practice is for.”
The Bs still have several games to play — and dominate. To qualify for a bid to the finals, the team has to do well at regionals next week.
The Wildcats will play in the West Regional playoff tournament May 19-23.
“We play to win, every game, every series, every year,” Boskovich said.
Editor-in-chief Dominic Baez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org