Eugene Challengers Select Josh Riley as Head Coach

Josh Riley, the head baseball coach at Sutherlin High School and an assistant coach with the Eugene Challengers for the last two seasons, has been named the American Legion baseball team’s new head coach.

Riley, 32, succeeds Todd Zeigler, who resigned late last year after six seasons at the helm because of the ongoing effects of multiple sclerosis.

“He brings experience as a former college baseball player,” Challengers board chairman Dale Hartley said. “He has what a lot of kids strive for, and that’s experience at the collegiate level. He’s got a good demeanor. He’s got his heart in the right place. He wants to help kids get better at the game of baseball and be prepared to go on, and he’s dedicated to doing that. …

“We needed to make sure that we had someone who would bring the right approach and attitude to the job, and who will continue to work on helping the young men get better. Coach Z did that in so many ways. … He taught them how to be young men, and we should be forever grateful for his time here, and so many kids realize that after they leave, the critical lessons they were taught by him.”

Hartley said the position drew a compelling field of candidates, and Riley said he was honored to be selected.

“I’m honored and excited. It’s a great program with great tradition, and I’m glad that I get to be a part of it,” he said.

Joining Riley on the Challengers coaching staff will be assistant coaches Shawn Peterson and Mitch Karraker, both former University of Oregon players. Peterson, a North Eugene grad who played three seasons for the Challengers, will be returning for his second season on the coaching staff.

Riley, a 2001 Sutherlin graduate, played American Legion baseball for Doc Stewarts of Roseburg. He played two seasons at Lane Community College, first as an outfielder and then as a catcher, helping the Titans to the 2003 Southern Division title and being selected for the NWAACC sophomore all-star game.

Riley then played two seasons as the starting catcher for Division II Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash., where he graduated in 2005 with a degree in social studies.  He went on to earn a masters degree at Western Oregon University, serving as Western’s outfield coach and hitting instructor during the 2007 season.

That fall, Riley returned to Sutherlin High School as a social studies teacher and assistant baseball coach, and was named head baseball coach in 2009. In six seasons as head coach (55-95), Riley has developed a Sutherlin summer program through the Oregon Junior Baseball Association that produced a Division II state title in 2010. During his tenure, Sutherlin has built a clubhouse for baseball players and is completing an indoor hitting facility.

Riley said he believes his continuing experience as a high school teacher and coach will be helpful as he leads the Challengers.

“I think that’s an advantage, to know what kids deal with day in and day out and what their concerns are and what their struggles are,” Riley said. “And to know the high school coaches throughout the area and their programs — those guys are my competition in the spring, so I get a feel for what other programs are doing. I feel that I will have a good understanding of the kids when they come in, and a good feel for what their baseball knowledge is and where we need to go to make it grow from there.”

Riley said one of the main challenges facing baseball coaches at every level is to keep players involved as participants in what is a very difficult sport.

“There are so many things for kids to do now that if there are challenges in one area, sometimes they just move to another area,” he said. “For me, baseball is a challenging game, and that’s what I love about it, but it can definitely turn kids off. To keep kids persevering through the challenges, and get them to learn to appreciate those challenges and those hurdles and how to climb over them, that’s what’s fun about it.”

Riley said he learned important lessons in two years as third base coach under Zeigler.

“Todd was a stickler for attention to detail,” Riley said. “That is one thing I will take from him. He was always prepared for any situation. … That attention to detail, to have four or five plans ready for whatever comes up, is definitely something that I’ll take. I think I’ll be better prepared for every situation we face during the season because of things I’ve learned the last couple of seasons from Todd.”

As for his own approach, Riley said, “I like the game, I’m a student of the game. I like old school tradition. I like guys with pants up and their head down and flying around the baseball, hard-working, excited to play the game and understanding the ins and outs of it and play it the right way.”

Riley lives in Eugene with his wife, Lindsey, and son, Grayson, born last July.

Peterson, who played two seasons for Lower Columbia College before transferring to Oregon, was a first baseman for the Ducks in 2010-11. Karraker, a former catcher, played three seasons at Oregon starting with the 2009 season, when the Ducks reinstated baseball. Riley said that Peterson will work with infielders, and that Karraker, who has been an administrative assistant with the Oregon program, will coach pitchers and catchers.