PALATINE HILL -- The Lewis & Clark PIoneers have a new leader in their quest for their first Northwest Conference championship since 1987 as Matt Kosderka was named the head coach of the program last June.
"The guys have really bought into what we want to do as new coaches as we look to meet our expectations that we haven't in the past," said Kosderka, who added Brandon Rupp, Garet Luebbert and Lewis & Clark alumnus Bill Allen to a staff that returns Nate Wilson-Traisman. "We're focusing on the process over results going into this season."
Lewis & Clark also returns two of their four All-NWC selections from last year, which was the team's most since 2013.
The senior class includes All-NWC Second-Team choice Sean Shepherd, who is expected to be one of the best hitters in the conference. Shepherd, an outfielder, finished in the top 10 in conference batting average at .361, the Pioneers' best. He also led the team in extra-base hits and total hits during 2017, finishing with 14 multi-hit games. Chandler Vieira is back for his second year with the team. A vocal leader, Vieira is an infielder and pitcher who provides a measure of confidence and toughness to the entire team. He finished with 10 RBI and two stolen bases last year. Connor Eggleston took to the mound as a junior after working primarily as an infielder in his first two seasons. Expected to be the team's closer in addition to playing first base, Eggleston threw 13 1/3 innings last year and had 10 strikeouts while batting for a pair of doubles. He had 20 RBI as a sophomore. Max Gordon has stepped up over the offseason and will seek more opportunities in 2018. Gordon had four at-bats last season and finished with a hit and a RBI.
The bulk of Lewis & Clark's pitching staff is in the junior class. Returning All-NWC selection Robert Reaser was fourth in the conference with 66 strikeouts last season and led the NWC in complete games. Reaser is highly intelligent and competitive, has quality pitches and should be the team's ace this year. Nathan Klein served as the team's top pitcher as a freshman and returns from injury in 2018. Klein struck out 34 batters and won three games in his first season. Nat Richman, Austin Conniff and Jeramy Albert led the Pios in appearances last year. Richman is a high potential guy and has worked hard to control his game coming into this season. He lowered his earned-run average in 2017 and struck out a career-high 16 batters in 15 appearances. Conniff made 15 appearances as well and has cemented himself as the backbone of the team. Dependable and hardworking, Conniff has great location and has yet to lose a game in his career, going 3-0. Albert moved his ERA downward last season and had 3.04 strikeouts per nine innings in over 23 innings pitched. He throws a mean two-seamer and should be a contributor for the Pios' bullpen. Max Haddad returns to the mound off an injury last season that limited him to two appearances. He had a 0.79 ERA and struck out four in over 11 innings.
Lewis & Clark's returning catchers are juniors as well. Cooper Larson has played in 68 games during his first two seasons, hitting .216 with 22 RBI and 10 extra-base hits. During fall ball, Larson led the way offensively while improving behind the plate. Ryan Ericksen enters the season as one of the team's most improved student-athletes. Now with a shortened swing, Ericksen returns as a .203 career hitter who had three RBI and a stolen base in 15 games last year.
Outside of Shepherd, Matt Donovan is the Pios' best returning offensive weapon and should be one of the best in the conference again. Shifting to centerfield this year, Donovan hit .284 and had 12 RBI with a team-best seven doubles in 37 games a season ago. Cameron Paton returns for his third season and is one of Lewis & Clark's most athletic and fastest. Over his first two seasons, Paton is hitting .250 with a .400 on-base percentage.
Among the sophomores, Andrew Yarak returns as the only pitcher of the class. Yarak started 10 games as a freshman and went 2-7 with one save in over 57 innings. With improving velocity and effective off-speed pitches, Yarak will be in the rotation again this season. Cole Petters, Justin Katona and Joey Oda are the returning sophomores in the field. Petters, who had 12 at-bats last season, has a lot of potential and is one of the Pios' few left-handed hitters. Katona moves to the outfield this season and should have more opportunities in the lineup. He's swung the ball well through fall and the early spring. Oda was the most improved team member during the fall and is a talented defender. He's expected to get on base and use his speed to help the Pios on the base paths.
11 newcomers join Kosderka in his first year as coach. Jacob Serafini is one of the best defenders in the infield and has become a vocal leader early. With high energy from Vista, Calif., Serafini was a two-time team captain and his team's MVP during his senior high school season. Michael Contreras has seen significant growth during his first fall and spring practices. One of the fastest on the team, he was an all-conference selection in Las Cruces, N.M. Tyler Gannon is a third baseman from Burlingame, Calif. where he was a team captain. He brings some solid skills and has been making adjustments throughout practice. Kevin Jacobs is a versatile first-year student-athlete who can play almost anywhere defensively, especially in the infield. With a solid bat, the San Mateo, Calif. product was a two-time team MVP and his league's MVP. David Schmidt had a good offensive fall and brings a lot of energy out of Seattle where he was an All-Metro Honorable Mention pick. He has shown a strong dedication to getting better and is a solid teammate. Sam Helms is an incoming catcher from Chandler, Ariz. The former team captain was a two-time letter winner and brings long-term potential to Lewis & Clark with his strong athleticism. From San Mateo, Calif., Dominic Monozon is expected to have an immediate impact on the mound with strong maturity and poise. He's also capable at third base. Brian Tatman is also a pitcher, joining the Pios from Saratoga, Calif. Also expected to play some outfield, Tatman has shown consistency on the mound and will improve as he continues to work with the coaching staff. Sammy Benbow has shown leadership qualities since coming to Portland from San Diego, where he is a former offensive player of the year. A lefty, Benbow understands the game, has a strong work ethic and will play at first base. Stephen Baker is a two-way player who is developing his pitch arsenal. From San Ramon, Calif., Baker is aggressive and able to hit and play in the outfield as well. Nick Kennison should see frequent time out of the bullpen, as he throws a high volume of strikes. An all-league first-team pick from San Francisco, Kennison was a two-time team MVP.
Following this weekend's first four games in southern California, the Pioneers compete at the Northwest Conference Pre-Season tournament with two games in Newberg, Ore. and Forest Grove, Ore. on Feb. 10 and 11, respectively.
The NWC schedule begins at George Fox on Feb. 17. Last season, the Pioneers took a series from the Bruins for the first time since 1999.
Lewis & Clark plays at its Huston Sports Complex for the first time against Pacific Lutheran on Feb. 24-25 before traveling to face Puget Sound the following weekend. The Pios wrap up the non-NWC schedule when they host Swarthmore on Mar. 10-11 prior home games with Linfield on Mar. 17-18.
Following a non-conference against Willamette at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, Ore. on Mar. 20, Lewis & Clark travels to Pacific on Mar. 24-25. The Pios wrap up March with a trip to Puget Sound and home games with Whitworth.
In April, the Pios host Pacific on Apr. 3 before visiting Whitman over the weekend. Willamette visits Portland to complete the home schedule on Apr. 14-15. The top four finishers in the regular season will compete in the NWC Tournament on Apr. 20-22.