by Steve Mims
Springfield took big steps forward – on and off the field – during its second season in the West Coast League.
The Drifters wrapped up the summer on Sunday with a 22-31 record that placed them in sixth place in the South Division. Overall, Springfield’s winning percentage of .415 put it 11th out of 16 teams in the league after finishing 17-37 during its inaugural season.
“There was improvement, I definitely felt like we made strides,” second-year head coach Tommy Richards said. “We were more competitive this year and I feel like that is a part of the maturation process. We lost a lot of one-run games, last year there were fewer tight games, ones decided by a few pitches here and there. I hope we learn how to get more comfortable and win those games down the road.”
Springfield, which was 9-10 in one-run games, began the season with four straight wins and sat in first place at 6-1-1 after the first week. The Drifters finished the season by winning 10 of their final 19 games.
“From June 15 to July 15, we struggled during that span and I’m not sure why,” Richards said. “But we did take advantage at the beginning and end of the season so we need to find a way to come together a bit more in the middle. I think we were a little bit streaky, we would go on a run and win a good amount of games and then have some dry spells. We have to figure out how to be more consistent.”
After losing 11 of 12 to wrap up the 2022 season, Springfield went 5-7 during the final two weeks this year.
“Last year we crawled to the finish, but this year we stayed in the fight and were competitive late,” Richards said. “We didn’t cash it in, so I was proud of that.”
Richards looks forward to more improvement next season that could put the Drifters into playoff contention.
“I think you can see some lessons learned from Year 1 to Year 2 and I hope to do the same from Year 2 to Year 3,” he said.
“Our processes are getting cleaner and we moved in the right direction. I do feel like we underachieved a bit this year so we are going to continue to make strides.”
Springfield had two of the top pitchers in the league as Rylan Haider went 4-2 with a 4.82 ERA and Hunter Dryden was 2-4 with a 5.19 ERA as both ranked in the Top 12 in the league in ERA among qualified pitchers. The team ERA of 4.81 ranked 10th in the WCL.
“Rylan and Hunter were here at the beginning of the season, the middle and the end and were always available,” Richards said. “I am proud of them because on any good team, you have guys that sacrifice for the team and those two did that.
They wanted the ball and were ready to pitch so I am grateful for that. Our pitching did its part in a lot of tight games, our offense didn’t always do enough, but I thought our pitching was good, especially in the first half.”
The Drifters ranked ninth in the league with a .248 batting average and fifth with 88 stolen bases.
Infielder Ryan Cooney of Jesuit High School, who will play at Oregon, led the team with a .351 average, 18 runs and 15 RBI in 30 games. Jason Shedlock hit .318 with 21 walks, 15 runs and 10 stolen bases while Cole Kleckner batted .307 with 17 runs scored and nine stolen bases.
Charlie Updegrave hit .279 and Bobby Blandford was at .277 with 11 steals followed by Gage Bruce at .273.
“We got better offensively when we got to the second half,” Richards said “We talk about being more consistent. You have more of a chance offensively when you can execute the short game and hit-and-run so we have to be specific who we recruit and have a plan and identity moving forward. We were near the bottom of the back in RBIs, we left so many runners on base.”
There was growth off the field as well as the Drifters continued to grow their fan base with larger crowds at Hamlin Field during their second season.
“I think there was real improvement on that side, you can see the number of fans creep up there and that is cool,” said Richards, who will begin his third season as Bushnell’s baseball coach when fall ball begins next month.