Fielding perhaps its deepest team since NCAA championship season of 2013, Linfield showcases solid talent all around the diamond. Led by a aces pitching staff, the Wildcats are well positioned for a run at the Northwest Conference title in 2017.
Longtime head coach Scott Carnahan returns for his 26th and final season. Carnahan, who is retiring after the season as coach and athletic director, will eclipse 1,000 games and is likely to surpass 600 wins.
Assisting Carnahan, are familiar faces including Jim Ray, Jarvis Gomes and Reeve Woodward, as well as head-coach-in-waiting Stan Manley. Jordan Harlow, a key member of the 2013 championship team, makes the transition from head coach at McMinnville High School to leading the Linfield junior varsity program this spring.
A close look at the depth Linfield features on the mound reveals a healthy mix of right- and left-handers. Northwest Conference honorable mention lefty Cason Cunningham returns for his second season after leading the NWC in strikeouts (66) last season. Right-handed starters Riley Newman, Callahan Neely and left-hander Carter Buuck enter 2017 with additional experience. Newman is coming off a dominant summer pitching for the Bend Elks while Neely is looking to return to the form of his freshman year when he burst onto the scene with a 1.17 ERA in 2015.
Out of the bullpen, senior Connor Scott and juniors Dylan Peters, Matt Strang and Taylor Boos will all see innings on the mound, each throwing from the right side. Peters saw the most playing time of any Linfield reliever in 2016, throwing 31 1/3 innings, Scott boasted the best ERA from the pen at 3.60.
David Brosius, son of former Linfield skipper and major league player Scott Brosius, has transferred from Oregon State. The lanky southpaw was named Oregon Class 6A Player of the Year his senior season at McMinnville High School in 2015.
Linfield looks to field one of the more efficient defensive units in the NWC. First-team all-NWC and second-team all-West Region first baseman Ben Andrews makes the transition to third base to fill the void of graduated ABCA Gold Glove Award winner Eric Lawson. A year ago, Andrews led the team with 39 RBIs in the cleanup spot.
After splitting time at second base, senior Kekoa Kaulukukui and junior Brady Rediger will look to turn plenty of double plays starting at shortstop and second base. Kaulukukui and Rediger combined for just six errors on more than 200 chances in 2016.
At first base senior, Ryan Pladson and junior Daniel Zavala are expected to rotate at the position with the other slotted in the lineup as the team’s designated hitter. Zavala, a transfer from Chemeketa Community College, is in his first season with the Wildcats. At CCC, Zavala was named a NWAC Southern Region second-team all-star as an infielder. Pladson, who hit six home runs in 2016, should also see time behind the plate in relief of junior Jake Gellos, who started 28 games at catcher a season ago.
In the outfield, Linfield welcomes back slugger Scott Hilpert, who accounted for a team-high 10 home runs. Hilpert moves from a corner outfield position to center. Joining Hilpert are juniors Ryan Ross and Alex Hendra-Brown, both of whom appeared in games in left and right field as well as designated hitter in 2016. Junior Jake Dennis adds quality speed to the outfield and base paths.
The Wildcats travel to start their season at the Arizona Desert Classic. An annual tradition, the ‘Cats face four Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference opponents in the Arizona sun before returning home to launch the conference schedule February 18 against Willamette.
Linfield is expected to be difficult to beat thanks to a combination of great pitching, speed on the base paths and a lineup that has gap-to-gap power from top to bottom. Narrowly missing out on the NWC tournament a season ago, the Wildcats comes to the ballpark hungry for another title. In Carnahan’s final season, it would be fitting if the Wildcats can send their coach out with another championship run to remember.