TUESDAY MORNING MOUND VISIT: L-C's streaky play a combination of factors

Mar. 12—The last three weekends of Lewis-Clark State baseball have been "streaky," in the words of Warriors coach Jake Taylor.

LCSC has split a four-game series against College of Idaho, swept a four-game series against British Columbia and, this past weekend, lost a series 3-1 to the Bushnell Beacons.

Not the string of results a team with legitimate World Series talent and expectations is supposed to have.

This past weekend's series against Bushnell was especially puzzling.

In Game 1 on Friday, the Warriors seemed to be continuing the momentum from their four-game sweep of the Thunderbirds the previous week. LCSC hit four home runs in five at-bats in the first inning and built a 5-0 lead en route to a 12-5 win.

Based on that result, the rest of the games that followed last weekend should have been a breeze for the Warriors.

The Beacons won the next three games 11-2, 7-5 and 3-2. The second game went completely opposite to the first: Bushnell built a hefty early lead that LCSC couldn't make up. In Games 3 and 4, the Warriors either had a lead at some point, tied the game or were within one or two runs at various points and had opportunities to win both contests.

There are tangible reasons as to why the Warriors lost the series to the Beacons: LCSC left 40 runners on base throughout the four-game series. Players being left stranded on the basepaths has become a discouraging theme for the Warriors over the course of the season that has yet to be remedied.

The starting pitching was also a mixed bag. Game 1 starter Drake George had a good outing, but Game 2 opener Jace Hanson was pulled after a third of an inning. Game 3 starter Shane Spencer struggled overall but still put together an admirable showing considering the heavy rain, and Game 4 opener Hiroyuki Yamada showed some good stuff on the hill but walked a more-than-ideal amount of batters.

The relievers' results were similarly inconsistent. And the lineup, which is still being tinkered with in the hopes of finding the most effective one, missed many chances to take leads or cut down deficits as evidenced by the 40 left on base.

"We started off hot," Taylor said. "I thought we panicked a little too much for the offense we had. ... Disappointing weekend for sure and we'll be back in practice trying to rectify some of the mistakes we made."

There's several key injuries to the team that haven't helped matters, but the string of results over the last three weeks are too up and down for an LCSC team with this level of experience and talent.

Lack of consistency might also be a contributing factor. Going through so many different lineups is not the best for situational baseball. But the Warriors went through similar challenges last season, and they ended up being one of the most potent offenses in the postseason.

The starting rotation of George, Hanson, Spencer and Yamada, which as of last weekend seemed to be the set four-day openers for the immediate future, is now in question again.

Taylor said that the team will use practice this week to determine the fourth starter for this weekend, which puts them right back where they were before the series against British Columbia.

The sixth-year skipper said that the team will probably go a few more weekends tinkering with the lineup before settling on a set one for the rest of the season, so LCSC will need to find a way to maintain consistent success until that's resolved.

There is a point to highlight that the Cascade Conference is a lot more improved than in years past. In previous seasons, the conference could be classified as the Warriors and then everybody else. Last season, two teams from the conference, including LCSC, were in the NAIA Opening Round, presented by Avista, and there's a good chance the same thing happens again this season.

But two things can be true at once.

It can be true that the Warriors' streaky stretch of series results can be credited to an uptick in the level of talent in the conference, and it can also be true that LCSC has been inconsistent series-to-series. More inconsistent than a team of its talent and caliber should be.

"Our conference definitely continues to improve each year," Taylor said. "And Bushnell has only been a program for the last couple years but they've dramatically picked it up. That being said, we are very streaky so far, which I think is a nice way of saying we've been inconsistent up to this point. I think not only myself, but the staff and the players definitely expect more out of ourselves."

Despite their struggles, I do think that sounding the alarm on the Warriors this season before the conference season officially starts is a little premature. The early season is often a time to work out the kinks before games start to officially count in conference standings. Plus LCSC was in a similar position in 2023 when it lost two conference series in a row for the first time in program history. That team ended up being one run away from an Avista NAIA World Series title.

And, even with all the aforementioned inconsistency, the Warriors still have three early-season wins against top-25 caliber opponents and a 10-6 overall record.

Plus, they play Corban this weekend — a team that's won just three of its last 28 games against LCSC. If there's a "get-right" series for the Warriors, it's that one.

But the inconsistencies are curious for a team of the caliber of LCSC.

If there is a glass half full to all of this, it's that the type of losses the Warriors have had against College of Idaho and Bushnell are probably their floor.

But then there lies the question of what LCSC's ceiling is. Whatever it is probably won't become evident until the current available players maintain a consistent level of play and injured players return to the team in a full-time capacity. The injuries are another reason why I think it's too soon to hit the panic button.

"I would imagine it's coming pretty soon where we'll settle on a lineup that gives us our best shot to play consistently," Taylor said. "It's nice to plug guys in and get guys playing time. But, at the same point, you want to have some adherence and just guys playing together with a consistent lineup helps. So we'll go a little longer (deciding on a lineup). This week is the opening week of our conference, so we don't have to decide anything (yet)."

Whatever the Warriors' peak is in their current state, reaching it sooner rather than later is imperative. LCSC plays series against Corban and Eastern Oregon next — two teams that the Warriors historically have had no problem handling.

The three series after that? Oregon Tech, which is battled tested and received top-25 votes before the season; College of Idaho, which already split a series against LCSC this season; and No. 5 LSU-Shreveport, which has been playing great baseball the whole year and looks primed and ready to return to the World Series after barely missing the mark a season ago.

The next two series will be critical for the Warriors to get back to top form ahead of a tough latter stretch of the regular season.

But for right now, Corban is next on the slate. And if the last three weekends have proved anything, it's that nothing can be assumed and no team can be overlooked.

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.