For the last three years, Sage Poland has been at his best in center field.
This year, the Lewis and Clark senior will most likely spend two of three games each week pitching.
After graduation took the Tigers’ top two pitchers from a year ago, the left-handed Poland has been asked to lead a largely inexperienced pitching staff.
His name isn’t mentioned among the Greater Spokane League’s top pitchers.
“He’s an athlete who is a pitcher,” Lewis and Clark coach Dexter Davis said. “When I give Sage the ball to pitch, the first thing I know is Sage is a competitor. He’s going to compete against the hitters. He’s going to challenge them.”
“Pitching’s not my forte,” the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Poland said. “I feel a lot more comfortable in the outfield. But when you’re on the mound you feel like you can influence the game a lot more. It’s a lot of fun.”
Poland knows he’ll return full time to the outfield in college.
Through three starts, Poland is 2-1. He had a no-hitter through six innings in a 9-2 win over University on Tuesday. At the plate, he’s hitting .348 (8 for 23), well less than his combined average of his first three years as a starter.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a slow start, because I got two hits in the first game and I hadn’t done that in any of the other years,” Poland said. “I’m not hitting my pitches like I’d want to.”
Poland figures his average will pick up considerably the rest of the season. In the Tigers’ first six games, Poland figures they’ve faced three of the GSL’s top five pitchers.
He led LC in hitting as a freshman (.481), slumped as a sophomore (.320) and bounced back to team-leading form last year (.436). He was a first-team all-GSL pick as a freshman and junior.
Davis pays Poland the highest compliment possible when he compares him to former LC standout Travis Webb, who is pitching in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league organization.
“I liken Sage to Travis as a hitter,” Davis said.
“That really means a lot to me,” Poland said of the praise. “He (Webb) is the one guy who is continually referenced at Lewis and Clark as one of our all-time best players.”
Poland isn’t slow, but he also isn’t fleet of foot in the outfield.
“Any balls that are hit out there, he has the attitude that he’s going to go get it,” Davis said. “He gets incredible jumps on the ball and he gets good reads off hitters. There aren’t any fly balls that Sage can’t go get.”
Poland said much of his ability to cover a lot of grass, including the gaps, is because of left fielder Garrick Little, who has started three years next to Poland.
“I don’t have to cover a lot of extra ground because of Garrick,” Poland said.
Poland has a pattern of scabs on the top of his left hand from cleat marks. Little stepped on his hand when Poland dived for a ball in the left-center gap during a game last week.
“That was my mistake, because I didn’t tell him I was diving for the ball,” Poland said. “He’s a guy who can cover a gap for you if you want to shade one way or the other.”
One statistic that’s as important to Poland as his batting average is his grade-point average. He carries a 3.52 GPA and is taking mostly honors or advance placement classes preparing him for college.
He plans to major in English with an emphasis in literature. Although he hasn’t made a final decision, he’s leaning toward attending Central Washington University.
“I want to be an English teacher,” he said. “English is my favorite class. The main reason I like it is you can talk your way to a right answer or write your way to a right answer.”
LC was a combined 10-30 in Poland’s first two years. Last season, the Tigers, after finishing third in league, got hot at the right time and captured the district championship. They finished 15-9 overall.
This spring, Poland wants to lead LC to regionals. The top three teams at district advance to regionals.
“I think we can be a similar team to last year,” Poland said. “And I think on most days we can compete with the best teams in the league.”
Davis appreciates Poland’s leadership.
“He’s the kind of kid you want to build your program around,” Davis said. “They don’t come any better than Sage Poland.”