From left, Joe Crowe, Ricky Ballentine, Willy Grader, Eddie Crowe, Travis Iverson and Cole Skriver are the six Lincoln County athletes playing with the Florence Sandblasters this summer. All of the ball players have played with, or currently play for, county high schools, including Newport High and Waldport High. (Photos by Jake Schubert)
Six Lincoln County players are among those giving a boost to the Florence Sandblasters, a AAA level American Legion baseball team, this summer.
Eddie Crowe, Travis Iverson, and Cole Skriver, all part of Newport High School’s Class of 2008, are on the team, along with current Cub Joe Crowe, who will be a senior next year. Willy Grader, a 2009 Waldport High School grad, and Ricky Ballentine, who will head into his senior year for the Irish this fall, are also part of the team.
Things did not go well Wednesday for the Sandblasters as the team lost for the first time in five games, falling to the Salem Withnell Dodgers, 21-5, in seven innings. On Monday, Florence outslugged Salem Post 9, 17-13, with Iverson picking up the win on the mound.
Head coach Ben Johnson said Iverson was roughed up Monday, but added that the 6-foot-5 right-hander is a hard worker. “I think Iverson will bounce back strong on his next outing,” Johnson wrote on his blog at sandblasters.wordpress.com.
Iverson, Skriver, and Eddie Crowe each played for Clackamas Community College in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) - a wood bat league.
“(Playing for the Sandblasters) is definitely different than high school, and even NWAACC baseball,” Iverson said. “The level of competition is probably the best you can find in Oregon for any place besides D(ivision)-2, D-3, and D-1 baseball. I haven’t seen better pitching than what we have faced at college, but with the aluminum bat, hitting and trying to throw to batters is a lot different. The NWAACC is all wood, so trying to throw back to a metal bat is a little tricky.”
Iverson was strictly a pitcher at Clackamas, but he plays a dual role for the Sandblasters, sometimes pitching, sometimes playing other positions. He was at third base in Wednesday’s game. Iverson said getting back in the field is “definitely different.”
“But I like it,” he added. “I like getting to play every day and having a role somewhere every day.”
It also means Iverson gets a chance to hit again. “Every once in awhile I get lucky and get a hit, I’m happy with that,” he said with a grin.
Iverson went one-for-three at the plate Wednesday, hitting from the five-spot in the lineup. He lined an RBI single up the middle, and scored a run.
Skriver is holding down familiar positions in centerfield and the leadoff spot in the batting order.
Johnson said Skriver is a good competitor, and is in the leadoff spot because he’s good at taking pitches, and isn’t bothered by being in a two-strike count. “You want that leadoff guy to run a 10-pitch at-bat,” Johnson noted.
In his blog, Johnson praised Skriver’s work in the dugout for Monday’s game.
“I really appreciate and applaud the job Cole Skriver did running our dugout when we lost some focus,” he wrote. “It is inspiring to see good, aggressive leadership. Some of our younger guys really don’t know what Legion baseball is all about, and how tough it is to stay focused and grind it out every night for nine innings.”
Skriver said playing for the Sandblasters has taught him some intricacies of the game.
“The coach is teaching me a lot more about what goes on after the plays are done, as far as backing up throws and thinking about the next pitch,” he explained.
“A lot more happens. The game is so much faster as opposed to high school. When you get into college baseball and see college pitchers and college hitters, this is starting to teach me a lot more about that.”
Skriver said his hitting is starting to come around. “These past couple games I’ve been seeing the ball a lot better and the coach has been working with me on hitting,” he said.
Skriver went two-for-three Wednesday, belting a triple to right center, and a single up the middle, and getting a walk.
Florence is scheduled to play 37 games, including five doubleheaders, with only a handful of off days between now and July 20.
In college, Iverson and Skriver said they typically played two doubleheaders each week - two games on Tuesday, and two more on Saturday.
“I like (playing every day) a lot better,” Iverson said.
“The weather is better (playing during the summer),” added Skriver.
“Gotta love summer weather,” Iverson agreed.
Asked about the adjustment from playing twice per week to playing on a day-to-day basis, Skriver said it is just like practicing every day. “It’s not that big of a deal, maybe a little adjustment,” Iverson added. “I’d rather be out here than in a crowded office.”
Ups and downs
Grader pitched middle relief Wednesday, which is his role for the Sandblasters after being Waldport’s go-to pitcher as a senior. On Monday in the team’s league opening win, Grader was named Player of the Game. He gave up four hits - all singles - through four-and-a-third innings.
Grader wasn’t as sharp Wednesday.
Grader said Monday he was keeping the ball low in the strike zone, while Wednesday he was leaving it up. He said he also did a better of job of getting a strike with his first pitch to each batter in Monday’s game.
Johnson wrote that Salem Post had 11 hits, six going for extra bases, before Grader entered the contest. “Clearly the work that Grader did through the mid part of the game was key for us,” Johnson noted.
Grader said playing for the Sandblasters is much more competitive than playing in high school. “Everybody wants to get better, so they can stay on the field and not have their spot taken,” he explained. He also likes his role on the team. “As long as I have an opportunity to play and compete, I’m happy,” he said.
Eddie Crowe is playing first base and pitching in the closer’s role. He pitched the ninth inning of a 3-1 win Tuesday against Springfield, tossing 13 pitches, 10 of them strikes.
Joe Crowe has moved from his familiar spot as the Cubs catcher to second base for the Sandblasters.
Ballentine was the designated hitter for Florence on Wednesday, going one-for-three with an RBI double to right-center during his second at-bat, while batting from the six-hole. In his final at-bat of the game, Ballentine smoked a ball to center, but the Salem fielder made a jumping catch to rob the slugger of a hit.
Johnson said Ballentine had not played much going into Wednesday’s contest, so he wanted to get the senior-to-be some looks at the plate. “He’s probably going to do a little bit more of that if he hits the ball like he did (against Salem),” Johnson said.
The Sandblasters, now 2-1 in Zone 3 play, and 4-1 overall, continue their season today (Friday) at Springfield, the first of four straight road games before returning home for a June 24 rematch with Salem Withnell.
Jake Schubert is the sports reporter for the News-Times. He can be reached at 265-8571 ext. 221, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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