TUESDAY MORNING MOUND VISIT: The picture becoming more clear for the Warriors baseball squad

Mar. 26—The Lewis-Clark State baseball team isn't playing the best it can right now. Coaches and several players on the team have said as much. But the Warriors took several steps forward this past weekend against Eastern Oregon.

The pitching staff entered the four-game series against the Mountaineers with the highest ERA in team history (4.89). Game 1 starter Drake George had a career best in strikeouts. And Game 4 relievers Tucker Grote, Landon Webb, Dallas McGill and Eli Takalo all had respectable appearances. This helped bring LCSC's team ERA down to 4.43. Still not great, but it's no longer the worst it's ever been.

The lineup had its best all-around series, as well.

In the first pair of doubleheaders, 10-of-11 players to register an at-bat got a hit. Senior outfielders Carter Booth and Nick Seamons combined for 12 hits, including six muti-base knocks in the second doubleheader.

These are good signs that the Warriors are starting to build some level of consistency. But still not where they want to be.

"We'd like to play cleaner," LCSC coach Jake Taylor said. "But, ultimately, at the end of the weekend we got (four wins). But plenty of room for improvement. ... We just need to keep going with what we do best. If we're concerned with what we're doing and we improve on that we should be pleased with the results."

LCSC scored more than six runs just once in the series — a 13-9 win in Game 3. The other three results were 6-3, 4-3 and 6-3. There were a couple of reasons for this: long stretches of scoreless innings and a continued trend of runners left on base for the Warriors (39).

But two steps forward and one step back is still a step forward.

Last year, the team started slow and didn't pick up offensively until the postseason. There have been some parallels from last year to now: A series split Feb. 23-25 against College of Idaho and a series loss March 8-9 against Bushnell.

But LCSC (17-7, 7-1 Cascade Conference) is way ahead of the curve compared to this point last season. In 2023, injuries and a mostly overturned roster from 2022 plagued the team. This year, injuries are still a factor. Defending World Series MVP Isaiah Thomas is out with a shoulder ailment and junior infielder Ike George missed the last couple of series with an injury of his own.

Unlike last year, the Warriors already have a general idea as to how the lineup will shake out. Catcher and shortstop are the only positions where there isn't a clear frontrunner. And LCSC has benefited from the newfound consistency with the players on the field.

Junior catcher Jakob Marquez had his first three hits of the season last weekend and the lineup was able to put together the necessary offense after four positions were shuffled around due to ejections and substitutions.

But it wasn't all sunshines and rainbows against the Mountaineers.

Eastern Oregon has an abysmal overall record at 9-21 and is yet to win a conference game. That team had an 8.04 ERA and a .247 batting average going into last weekend. That team was able to push LCSC. The Mountaineers had their own missed chances (35 runners left on base) and if it wasn't for that, fortunes very easily could've gone a different direction.

There is the glass half-full point of view that LCSC won with so many positions being moved around. Then again, there's the glass half-empty view that not everything is set in stone at the midway point of the season. Junior outfielder Brandon Cabrera and senior infielder Pu'ukani De Sa were both pulled from Saturday's games due to fielding errors.

But everything is a process.

On top of Booth and Seamons' performances, junior infielder Dominic Signorelli hit his team-leading 11th home run of the season. Junior designated hitter Charlie Updegrave had a six-game hitting streak going into Saturday. Cabrera is second on the team in batting average and Marquez broke out of his slump. The names on the lineup card have been the same recently. Now the play on the field needs to take that next step forward. Good thing it now has a proof-of-concept with this past weekend to build on.

The pitching staff is (still) in the midst of its own process.

Taylor and the rest of the coaching staff are still looking to find Game 3 and 4 starters. Barring an unforeseen disaster, Drake George and Shane Spencer should be safe as the Game 1 and 2 starters.

Drake George leads the team in ERA and is 4-0 in six games started. He also is the only pitcher on the team that's thrown more than 30 innings this season. Spencer didn't have his best outing against Eastern Oregon, but he is second on the team in strikeouts. And his first game was in the fourth week of the season against British Columbia.

As for the other two starters and the rotation out of the bullpen, the coaches are still looking for some headway. Jace Hanson, Decker Stedman, Hiroyuki Yamada, McGill and Jadon Williamson have all made appearances as starters and relievers. It's been a mixed bag of really good showings, and days they would rather forget.

But similar to the lineup, the series against the Mountaineers was the best all-around showing the staff has had all year. The pitchers gave up nine runs in Game 3 (only two of them earned) and 12 hits in the same contest.

Aside from that one blemish, they followed the theme the rest of the Warriors did: they took a step forward.

"I think the staff is progressing a little bit," Taylor said. "And there's some great competition there for innings. So everyone there needs to be ready when their name is called."

There are still clear areas of improvement. And the results are not where the coaches or the team want them to be. But the team has bought in and almost everyone has upped their game in the last two weeks. Plus, The Warriors are 7-1 in conference play.

LCSC plays Oregon Tech in a pair of doubleheaders with the first one kicking off at 11 a.m. Friday in Klamath Falls, Ore. The Owls are a team that has talent, but also haven't played up to the expectations they have for themselves. Oregon Tech might prove to be a more-than-capable challenge for LCSC, but if the Warriors continue to take a step forward from their series against Eastern Oregon, then there's no need to fret.

If LCSC regresses or treads water, then it'll be another series where the Warriors return home disappointed.

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