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Being Aggressive and Smart on the Basepaths

It's easier to get home on time when you hit a string of perfectly timed green lights on your commute. Estacada (Oregon) High School coach Andrew Higgins uses a similar philosophy to get his players home in a hurry on the baseball diamond.

“Most of our guys have a green light to get to second base any way they can,” Higgins said. “The mentality is, ‘If it's there, take it.’ Advancing from first to second without giving up an out in the process is a huge advantage. We don't do a lot of bunting — we're going to steal that base.”

While moving to second greatly improves the chance for a runner to get home on any given hit, the Rangers don't stop there. Defenses need to be on high alert against the Rangers, who will also swipe third given the chance. And in an early-season mercy rule win against Molalla, senior Jordan McDaniel took advantage of a slow pitcher's delivery to steal home, sliding in headfirst before the catcher could react.

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Estacada had 103 stolen bases through its first 19 games — better than five per outing.

“When you're running, you force the other team to throw a lot of fastballs and every high school team can be a good fastball-hitting team,” Higgins said. “Running also creates movement on the infield and makes the holes bigger, so you don't need to be so precise as a hitter.”

The result of that aggressive mindset on the bases has shown up on the scoreboard. Through April, Estacada ranked third in the state with 7.8 runs per game and had recorded five mercy-rule victories.

While amping up the pressure on the offensive side, Higgins also preaches an aggressive approach to his pitching staff. One of his biggest indicators of success is first-pitch strikes.

“When you get ahead in the count it widens the strike zone and sets up other pitches,” Higgins said. “Our top two guys are getting first-pitch strikes 65-70 percent of the time, and we are turning those into outs at better than 90 percent. That allows you to create a good rhythm.”

The Rangers staff is led by McDaniel and Andy Avants, while Lane Sittner finished off a shutout against playoff-contending Molalla last week. 

“We have a deep staff with two number ones, and they fill the zone with strikes,” Higgins said. “That allows us to play efficiently.” 

The result has been a historic season for the Rangers, who reeled off a school record 15 wins that included the entire month of April. Estacada headed into the final week of the regular season with a 19-3 record and the Tri-Valley Conference title secured. 

Higgins is in his second year as head coach with the Rangers. He was a high school pitcher who split his prep career between Wilson High and Skyview High in the Portland-Vancouver area before going on to play junior college baseball at Southwestern Oregon. He continues to take the mound in a Portland adult wooden bat league.

From GameChanger and David Ball.

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