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Day: June 24, 2014

MHS, PSU alum kicking for Thunder

Graphic by KEIZERTIMES/Andrew Jackson. Photo courtesy Duane Terkildsen
Graphic by KEIZERTIMES/Andrew Jackson. Photo courtesy Duane Terkildsen

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

It’s surprising to hear Zach Ramirez talk about his success at Portland State University as “unexpected.”

Ramirez, who went by Zach Brown when he was a Celtic at McNary High School, started racking up school records as a sophomore and continued growth led to his being named as an All-American in numerous polls and venues after his junior season. His name is in the Viking record book for most career field goals and a field goal conversion rate of 89 percent among others, but he didn’t join the team as a kicker.

“I was up there to be a receiver,” Ramirez said. “The transition was harder than I thought it would be because I wasn’t getting many minutes, maybe a few at the end of each game. It was difficult to have the whole team out there playing and watch it from the sideline.”

Last week, a year after graduating from PSU, Ramirez signed on to play with the Arena Football League’s Portland Thunder as their place kicker.

In his freshman year at PSU, the Vikings had a senior kicker and three more lined up right behind him. When his field time didn’t grow much in his second year, Ramirez made the decision to try out for kicker but he had to beat out the players in line ahead of him.

“The first week I tried out they thought it was a fluke, but they let me do kickoffs and put the other guy on field goals,” Ramirez said. “A couple of weeks later they let me challenge him again after practice. We were playing Pig or something and I outplayed him.”

From that point on, Ramirez was the team’s go-to place kicker. He still didn’t get on to the field as often as he would have liked but, as long as the team got within range of a field goal – and Ramirez hit two as far away as 53 yards – it was an opportunity for a more consistent presence.

Ramirez credited his coaches with a lot of support, but it was teammates Connor Kavanaugh, PSU’s holder, and Braedyn Eagle, the Vikings’ long snapper, who gave him the most needed support.

“A hard word from Connor was all I needed,” Ramirez said. “He talked me through every hold and patted me on the back after each attempt. Braedyn did the same thing. They made me feel like part of the game even though I wasn’t on the field. It would have been harder process without them, and I probably would have grown slower.”

In his junior year at PSU, Ramirez made 24 of 27 attempted field goals and garnered nationwide acclaim. It led to a tough choice regarding where to put his focus.

“I had to decide whether I was going to focus on school or football, and I chose to put it into football with the hope that if I was able to land something it would pay me enough to go back and finish up a degree in health sciences,” Ramirez said. “My academic advisor didn’t agree with my decision, but she helped me figure out a way to graduate with a degree in community health.”

On the first kick of his senior year, Ramirez was run into by another player and suffered a torn MCL. He returned later in the season, but was still adjusting to the injury when he took part in a training camp for the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. From there he went to a three-day tryout with the Green Bay Packers.

“I beat out Giorgio Tavecchio who ended up with the Detroit Lions, but I’m still learning about what coaches are looking for in a kicker,” Ramirez said.

He outperformed three NFL kickers and the rest of the competition at a free agent camp shortly thereafter, and that’s where most of his opportunities in recent months arose. Signing with the Thunder is the latest in a series of talks and tryouts with the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.

He’s only had two Thunder practices and one game (they lost to the LA Kiss 69-61), but there already a number of differences.

“The atmosphere feels small because I’m used to open field, but it was louder than the PSU games. I haven’t hit the ground yet, but the carpet has a different feel. You’re on it and not in it,” Ramirez said.

Since he was young, the crowds at football games have held most of the allure for Ramirez.

“That’s why I chose football over soccer. I’d rather play football in the U.S. because I enjoy the fans. People go there because they want to see what you can do even if they don’t like your team. As one of my coaches said, ‘If they’re booing that means they know you can do it,’” Ramirez said.

More than the records and the crowd, Ramirez has grown to love the feel of being on a team, and that’s what’s going to keep him on the path a little while longer.

“I’ve seen how quickly that network dissipates after you stop playing,” Ramirez said. “What’s great isn’t even the sport itself. It’s being around people who have the same thoughts as you do about something that you love. You enjoy them every minute you’re on the field. Even the guys you hate, the ones who do things you wouldn’t do or say things you wouldn’t say, but you go give them a hug at the end of practice.”

After All-Star win, Volcanoes hit wall

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By HERB SWETT
For the Keizertimes

A 16-3 victory over a college all-star team June 12 helped prepare the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes for the 2014 season.

The game, which featured home runs by Shilo McCall and newcomer Fernando Pujadas, showed the fans in Volcanoes Stadium several new as well as returning players as Salem-Keizer manager Gary Davenport made plenty of substitutions.

Jason Forjet, the Volcanoes’ starting pitcher, allowed no runs and one hit in his four innings. He did not pitch long enough to get the win; that went to Kirk Singer, who pitched the fifth inning.

The Volcanoes’ second inning was their first big one. Leo Rojas led off with a walk.  Travious Relaford hit an infield single.  After one out, McCall walked to load the bases. Tyler Hollick singled to right field, scoring Rojas and Relaford, and went to second base on a throw. Christian Arroyo doubled to right center, clearing the bases. Walks to Ryan Jones and Craig Massoni loaded the bases again, Rojas drove Arroyo home with a sacrifice fly, and Geno Escalante singled to left, scoring Jones.

Salem-Keizer added a run in the third when Jones tripled to drive in Randy Ortiz, who had reached first base on a force out.

McCall’s homer to right field led off the Volcano fifth.

The All-Stars’ first run came in the sixth, when Kyle Dozier of Loyola Marymount singled home Justin Bridgman of Nevada.

In the Volcano seventh, Hollick hit a two-out Texas League double to center and went to third on a single by Jonathan Jones. Arroyo brought Hollick home with a single to right. Brett Kay singled, loading the bases. Massoni doubled to left center, scoring Jones and Kay. Pujadas homered to left with Massoni on base, making the score 16-1.

The All-Stars scored twice in the eighth. Michael Hostetler of Fresno Pacific doubled to shallow center and scored on a double by Connor Counce of Murray State Community College. Counce went to third on a ground out and scored on a wild pitch.

Asked what he was thinking during the game, newcomer Arroyo said, “Trying to get ready for the season.”

McCall who played left field for the Volcanoes last year and expects to be the regular right fielder this season, said, “We know what to expect.”

Manager Gary Davenport of the Volcanoes said the game was good preparation for the regular season.

“We have to play at night and get used to the weather,” he said.

June 14: Vancouver 3, Volcanoes 1

The Canadians’ Christian Vasquez and Alexis Maldonado singled in the top of the third inning, and a pitch from Jose Reyes hit Roemon Fields, loading the bases. Vasquez scored as David Harris hit into a force out, with Maldonado going to third. An error by Reyes on a pickoff attempt let Maldonado score.

In the Salem-Keizer seventh, Relaford tripled and scored on a single by Ryan Jones. Vancouver added a run in the eighth, when a double by Franklin Barreto scored Fields who had walked and stolen second base.

Joe Lovecchio was the winning pitcher in relief, with Kamakani Usui earning a save. Reyes was the starting and losing pitcher.

The Volcanoes outhit Vancouver 9-6.

June 15: Vancouver 6, Volcanoes 1

The visiting Canadians outhit the Volcanoes 11-5 to make it an 0-3 record so far for Salem-Keizer.

Vancouver led from the second inning on, scoring twice in the bottom of the third. The Volcanoes responded in the same inning with their only run.

Both Canadian runs in the third were unearned, third baseman Will Callaway making a two-out error that put Tim Locastro on first base. Locastro reached second on a single by Roemon Fields and scored when Jonathan Davis singled. Franklin Barreto singled Fields home.

In the Volcano third, Johneshwy Fargas was hit by a pitch, moved up on a walk and a single, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Leo Rojas. The Canadians scored their remaining runs in the fifth on a walk and three singles.

Nicholas Gonzalez was Salem-Keizer’s starting and losing pitcher. Tim Mayza was the winning pitcher in relief.

June 16: Volcanoes 10, Vancouver 9

The Volcanoes, after trailing 8-1 in the middle of the seventh inning, erupted in the bottom of the seventh with six runs, and from then on it was a game.

In the eighth, Vancouver added a run and then Salem-Keizer added two. After a scoreless ninth, it took three more innings for the Volcanoes to get their first win of the season.

Relaford walked in the 12th and went to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Seth Conner. Craig Massoni doubled to right center field, driving Relaford home.

Eury Sanchez, the Volcanoes’ seventh pitcher, got the win. Kamakani Usui, the Canadians’ sixth, was the loser. Johneshwy Fargas had three hits for the Volcanoes, Relaford scored three runs and Ryan Jones batted in two.

June 17: Volcanoes 4, Vancouver 3

A three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning gave the Volcanoes their second straight win and held the Canadians’ series win to 3-2.

All three Vancouver runs came in the first inning. A double by Roemon Fields, two singles, two stolen bases and a balk call on starting pitcher Jason Forjet provided the runs.

Salem-Keizer scored its first run in the seventh.  Fernando Pujadas reached first base on an error, moved up on a walk and scored on a single by Tyler Hollick.

In the eighth, Ryan Jones reached first on an error, and Craig Massoni hit a two-run homer. The next two batters were retired, but Will Callaway doubled and Pujadas drove him in with another double.

Dusten Knight was the winning pitcher in relief. Joe Lovecchio was the loser, also in relief.