By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
Baker baseball coach Alan McCauley retooled his ball team in hopes that the Bulldogs could repeat as the Greater Oregon League champions.
Baker and Grant Union tied for the GOL regular-season crown last year with 12-2 records. The Bulldogs then defeated Grant Union 8-4 in a playoff game to earn the leagues top seed in the Class 3A state playoffs.
But this season Grant Union, ranked No. 1 in the Class 3A polls, ran away with the GOL title. Baker had to settle for second place.
The Bulldogs will open the Class 3A state playoffs Tuesday at the Baker Sports Complex hosting the Central Panthers. The first pitch is scheduled at 3:30 p.m.
Leading this years Baker mound staff is returning first-team all-GOL pick Luke Palmer, a senior. He is 8-0 with a 0.84 earned-run average. Palmer has 91 strikeouts and just 18 walks this season.
Junior Wes Cooke is the Bulldogs other starting pitcher. Cooke is 7-2 with a 1.43 ERA. Cooke has struck out 63 and walked 17.
Steve Valentine, who hit .387, anchors the Baker infield at shortstop.
Palmer also will see duty at second base and the outfield.
The only other returning senior is outfielder Pat Taylor (.300), in right field.
Cooke, who along with Brian Baker is the other returning junior, will also see action at second base. Baker (.482) is penciled in at first base. He leads the team in average, hits (40) and RBIs (30).
Four other juniors who saw limited varsity experience last season, have moved up from the junior varsity.
Matt Mahoney injured his throwing arm, but has served as the Bulldogs designated hitter most of the season.
Justin Merritt (.319), who McCauley said has great speed on the basepaths, can play second, third and short, and the outfield.
Bjorn Boyer sees most of the action at third base.
Greg Goodenough (.352) and sophomore Chris Price (.388) handle the catching duties.
Another sophomore, Dan Justus, holds down center field. He leads the Bulldogs in home runs with three.
Central finished fifth in the Capital League, but earned the leagues third state berth by defeating North Marion and Sweet Home in a district playoff.
The Panthers trailed North Marion 6-0 entering the seventh inning Friday, then scored 10 unanswered runs to advance. Later Friday, Central came from down 2-1 to edge Sweet Home 5-2.
McCauley scouted both games and said Central is similar to Mac-Hi of the GOL.
The Panthers, 10-11, are on a 5-game winning streak entering Tuesdays game.
Baker, 19-7 overall, has won six in a row, all by shutout.
The winner of Tuesdays game advances to the second round of the playoffs on Friday at The Dalles.