A challenging regular season proved to be worth it for a young Dora baseball team last season, as the Falcons entered districts with a losing record only to upset their way to a second straight district championship.
Now, with only one senior lost to graduation, the Falcons may be poised to add many more regular season and postseason victories to the board in 2017.
Veteran coach Rick Luna, entering his 12th year with the program, welcomes back four starters who have been an integral part of two district title-winning teams.
“Our record last year (9-13) was definitely not what we had set out to accomplish,” Luna said. “However we were able to win another conference title and win our second district title in a row. I was very proud of this team for never giving up through a very long season.”
Dora’s lone senior graduate – Cade Smith – was a big piece of the puzzle, however. He hit .411 with 12 extra-base hits, eight steals and 15 RBIs. As a pitcher, he was 3-3 overall with one save and 4.96
Luna can pencil in four returning starters to the lineup. Senior first baseman Tanner Hoover hit .403 with 19 RBIs and 21 steals last season.
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“Tanner has a great work ethic and will play first base again this season. He will hit towards the top or middle of the lineup,” Luna said. “He kept that hot bat going in the fall with a .447 average. Tanner has great hands at first base and has become the leader of this team.”
Junior Robert Vigdal hit about .200 last spring, but had a breakout fall season with a .445 average and 20 RBIs in 14 games. He’ll pitch and play the middle infield.
Junior Kaleb Harris led Dora with a .424 average, adding 16 RBIs and 13 steals.
“(Harris) will hit in the top of the lineup, catch, pitch and play middle infield,” Luna said. “Kaleb is a very versatile player that I can put anywhere. We will need him to continue putting the ball in play on both sides of the field to be successful.”
Sophomore JJ Ryan brings speed and coverage ability to the outfield, while showing signs of being an improved hitter.
A pair of juniors, Austin White and Brent McKemie, will also factor into Dora’s lineup.
White hit .429 with 15 RBIs and a home run in Dora’s 2016 fall season. He’ll be among Dora’s top two starting pitching options and play third base when not pitching.
Four freshmen – Carson Lowe, Tyler Luna, Payton Smith and Kyle Hambelton – are also contending for starting spots. Lowe hit .357 with 16 RBIs in the fall and offers position versatility.
Tyler Luna also hit over .400 in the fall. Smith provides versatility and defense, while Hambelton is rather new to the sport but offers athletic upside.
Dora is in Class 1 District 5 this season. The other schools in the district group are: Bakersfield, Bradleyville, Couch, Koshkonong and Lutie.
“The past two fall seasons (2014, 2015) we had struggled going 3-7 both times,” said Rick Luna. “This past fall we improved to 9-5. The older guys have really stepped up and have taken a leadership role in what we are trying to accomplish. With the overall improvement I saw out of our guys this fall, I am very excited about this upcoming season.”