After being eliminated in the quarterfinal round each of the last three seasons, the Oyster River High School baseball team is more determined than ever, and may just have the potential to compete for more this season.
With all nine regular starters returning from last season’s squad, which went 10-8, players and coaches alike feel that the Bobcats have the ability to make even more strides, and expect to be among the strongest teams in the state.
“This team is as good or better than any team I have had so far here at Oyster River,” said manager Craig Walfield, who is in his sixth season at the Oyster River and has coached for 32 years. “The big difference between this year’s team and last year’s, is we are another year older and stronger than last year’s team.”
Undoubtedly, the team’s biggest strength is their pitching, which Walfield referred to as “possibly the best in the state.” Led by Aidan Yoder (17’), Brennen Oxford (18’), Owen Tonkin, Max Lewis, and Sam McGregor (all ‘19), Oyster River’s pitching staff led the state with a 1.40 ERA (Earned Run Average) and in strikeouts.
“The expectations are set pretty high this year,” said Yoder, a team captain and one of three OR players who received all-state recognition last season. “We need to take each game one at a time and not let what people are saying about our team get to our heads. A major goal we have this year is to score more runs. Last year we were very young and didn’t have a lot of varsity experience but this year I believe it’s a different story.” Yoder led the team in strikeouts (pitched) with nearly 70, and is committed to play at Wheaton College (DIII) in Norton, MA next season.
Despite their stellar pitching, a large part of the reason the team only finished two games over .500 was their trouble scoring runs against some of Division II’s stronger teams. “Our goal for this year from last is [to improve] our offense,” said Oxford, who is committed to Wake Forest University (DI) after he graduates. “We need to score more runs this year and I believe we will.”
Oxford led the team and was among the state leaders with a .486 batting average, and aims to hit over .500 this year. Behind the first-team all-state selection, improving team offense is the top priority of Walfield’s. “The one question we will have to answer is, can we score runs?” he said. “It was the one weakness we had last year.”
Max Lewis is one of many players who sees the need for the team to boost their hitting, “I expect myself to improve in that area of my game by a lot,” he said. “Last year we were a very young team, starting no seniors and three freshmen so this year we all have more experience and have much higher expectations.”
“Our expectation is to win every single game,” adds a confident Oxford, “and if we lose we’re not going to be the type of team to take it lightly.”
Despite the high expectations of both the players and local media, the season goals and mindset for Walfield haven’t changed. “I always go into every season with the mindset of putting the pressure on everyone we face. Step on the gas and try never to look back,” he said. “I always want to strive to make the playoffs each year. If we do, then we attack each game like it could be our final game and hopefully we can find a way to a [championship].”
With a mix of talented youngsters, an experienced nucleus and a number of college-bound starts, the team feels a road to the end could be on the horizon.
“I also think everyone knows how special this season could be,” proclaimed Yoder.
The Bobcats open their season facing John Stark on Wednesday, April 12, and play their first home game against rival St. Thomas on April 17, at 4pm.
Written by Zach Leichtman