‘A chance to be special’

Noah Noteboom // The Torch
Jimmy McDonald awaits a pitch from one of his teammates during practice. The McDonald, a Yakima-native is one of the team’s two captains this season.

After a “heartbreaking” loss to Lower Columbia last year, as described by Lane pitcher Jesse Davis, in the NWAC baseball tournament semi-final, the Titans are seeking a second chance. Just one out and one run away from a championship berth, the Titans fell apart and lost in the final inning to the eventual NWAC champions, the Lower Columbia Red Devils.

“Going into the last inning, we were all pretty jittery,” recalls Davis.“But we have a lot of guys who know what they’re doing, and we have high expectations to return.”

Lane was ranked fourth in the first preseason coaches’ poll released earlier this month. Under seventh-year head coach Josh Blunt, the Titans have never placed lower than third in the Southern Region. Despite not having won a conference title yet, Blunt remains optimistic on bringing their first Southern Region trophy to Eugene for the first time since 2004

“Since our semi-final loss last year, we went from being good on paper to a chance to be special,” Blunt said about this year’s expectations.

Blunt also praised his pitching staff, which is ranked ninth in the nation for earned run average among all levels of collegiate baseball.

“As part of the pitching staff, we have to build on what the players have, and instill our own kind of identity,” Zack Kayser, who is entering his fourth season as pitching coach, said.

Noah Noteboom // The Torch
Charlie Patterson winds up as Jimmy McDonald waits for the pitch. Patterson joins Lane as a freshman pitcher from Whidbey Island, WA who attended South Whidbey High School.

“We like to pitch fast, our goal is to keep hitters off-balance,” said Kayser, on the pitching staff’s philosophy.

Kayser also pointed out that Davis and Dillon Larsen have both signed letters of intent to play for the Division 1, University of Washington Huskies after this season. Davis’ 1.81 ERA was good enough to be ranked fifth in the NWAC.

Since 2002, six Lane baseball players have been selected in the annual MLB Draft held in Secaucus, New York. The latest draftees were Kyle Keith and Austin Crowson, who were both selected in last year’s draft. Keith went in Round 22 to the Texas Rangers, while Crowson was picked not far behind by the New York Yankees in the 26th round. Last season, Keith was second on the squad with 66 total strikeouts and a 2.86 ERA.

“I’ll remember the people the most. Especially on the baseball team,” said Keith, of his experience as a Titan. “He [Blunt] does everything he can to help get his players to the next level.”

The Titans open their regular season with a four-game series against Everett in PK Park on Feb. 24 at 12 p.m. Two weeks later, they will face the reigning NWAC champions, the Lower Columbia Red Devils, and look to avenge last year’s early tournament exit when they travel up to Longview, WA.