By LANCE MASTERSON
Of the Keizertimes
Zach is back.
Zach Moeller, the senior pitcher who led McNary to the state championship a year ago, turned in one of his best performances of the season one week shy of his team’s Class 6A playoff opener. Last year, he won three games and saved one in five playoff games.
“I think Zach is pitching real well,” said McNary Coach Craig Nicholas. “Zach, the other night, was great.”
In that Friday, May 14, outing, the lefty pitched a one-hitter against West Salem to lead McNary to a 5-0 win in the regular-season finale for both teams. The Celts clinched their conference’s third seed with the win.
Moeller struck out 15 and walked three. The Titans’ lone hit came in the sixth inning.
“I was just hitting my spots. I didn’t have overpowering stuff,” said Moeller. “Wherever Coach Nicholas called it, I was just putting it on the black, so my location really helped.”
Moeller also got it done with his bat, driving in two runs with a walk and hit. Spencer Rice added a double and two singles.
“Against West Salem, I thought it was the first time all year that we looked like we were somebody. Put up a run here and a run there, made plays and had fun doing it,” said Nicholas.
The team’s timing couldn’t be better, not with do-or-die looming.
“We’ve just got to have good pitching and then good hitting. I think our defense will pick it up during practice, as playoffs come. As it gets more important, we play with greater importance,” said third baseman Zach Olpet. “As long as our pitchers do well, I think our hitting and fielding will come through.”
Olpet added now is not the time to leave any part of your game on the bench.
“Every game, I’ve always gone hard and played hard,” said Olpet. “But now that we’re in the playoffs, I think we’ve got to turn it up a little and take it up another notch. It’s time to play.”
While not as deep last year, Nicholas said the team has the weapons to get the job done.
“Realistically, we have two pitchers (Moeller and Rice) who are real good,” said Nicholas.
“We play adequate defense and we hit the ball around. Anything can happen. I’m just glad we got into the playoffs, because there was a point I didn’t know if we would or not.”
McNary also has experience.
“A lot of these kids were around last year, and even though they may not have played much, they’ve seen it,” said Nicholas. “As long as you don’t make errors, as long as you don’t run yourself out of innings, baseball is not as tough as everybody wants to make it out to be.”
The Celts play at Reynolds in today’s opener. Reynolds is the third seed from the Mt. Hood Conference.
In league play, Moeller led the staff with an earned run average of 2.13 while Rice notched six wins.
No other pitcher on the staff had an ERA lower than 4.50 or more than two wins.
McNary also lacks a Nick Phillips, last year’s reliable closer.
What the Celts do have is confidence.
“Obviously, making another run would be awesome. We just don’t want to beat ourselves,” said Moeller. “If we play McNary baseball, and play hard all seven innings, then there’s nothing we can do about that if we lose. But if we play bad and just a give to someone else, it’s obviously going to leave a sour taste in our mouths.”