Junior Bode Kissel is batting .667 and is part of a deep pitching staff.
Junior Bode Kissel is batting .667 and is part of a deep pitching staff.

Early in the decade, Hidden Valley baseball coach Mark Vidlak started the Aces youth program as a way to provide the Mustangs with an exclusive pipeline of experienced players.

It appears to be paying off in a big way.

Hidden Valley has been one of the most consistently successful teams in 4A in recent years, averaging more than 20 wins over the last four seasons and reaching the state semifinals in 2015 and the quarterfinals in 2016 and 2017.

“These kids have played probably close to 300 games together before they even get to high school,” Vidlak said. “We have a ton of teams that are invested in it, and it’s why we’re able to have some sustained success.”

The impact of the feeder program has never been more apparent than this season. Despite starting three sophomores and two freshmen, Hidden Valley is off to a 10-0-1 start, outscoring its opponents 108-26, and is No. 2 in the OSAAtoday 4A coaches poll.

The Mustangs have never won a state championship, appearing in their only final in 2012. But with their young talent, they could be on their way to changing that.

“I’m hoping with this group that we can break the ice,” Vidlak said. “This year I think we’re a little bit young, but I think in the next few years we’re going to be as good as we’re going to be for a long time, I’ll tell you that.”

Hidden Valley was on a huge roll last season, winning 16 in a row, before standout slugger Vincent DiMatteo suffered a broken back and the team finished 0-6, falling in the play-in round.

“We couldn’t replace that kid, bottom line,” Vidlak said of DiMatteo, who now plays at Linfield. “The kid just mashed the baseball.”

The Mustangs, who brought back five starting position players in junior center fielder Bode Kissel, junior first baseman Caughlin Shults, senior outfielder Parker Wright and sophomore infielders Ryan Harry and Sam Vidlak, have retooled with youth.

It also helps that the pitching staff -- which features Kissel, Shults, Harry and freshman Isaac Hill -- has been lights out so far. In 48 combined innings, the four have allowed 29 hits and nine earned runs and struck out 56.

“I don’t know that we have an ace,” Vidlak said. “Our strength is we have multiple kids who compete and throw a lot of strikes. It’s something that we kind of take pride in is our pitching and defense.”

The Mustangs had two of their more impressive wins last week. They blasted No. 5 Junction City 11-1 on Tuesday and Hill tossed a one-hitter to outduel Rainier senior standout Austin Cantrell in a 2-1 win Thursday.

“The kids played really well against some senior pitching,” Vidlak said.

On offense, Shults is hitting .480 with a home run and 16 RBIs, Kissel is batting .667 with 10 RBIs and sophomore outfielder Gavin McLaughlin has driven in 11 runs.

McLaughlin is part of a group of first-year starters that includes Hill (shortstop), senior Brycen Stevens (outfield) and freshman Nate Vidlak (catcher/third base).

The Mustangs open Skyline Conference play Wednesday at Mazama.