Having home field advantage and the momentum of a last week’s 6-1 upset over The Dalles-Wahtonka in its favor, the No. 11-ranked Hood River Valley High School varsity baseball team came into Friday’s play-in contest vs. North Eugene with confidence and poise.
The team walked away disappointed, however, as the No. 22-ranked Highlanders pulled off a 2-0 upset to end the Eagles’ season and advance to the Oregon 5A championship tournament.
“We felt extremely confident coming into this game,” said coach Erich Harjo. “This is definitely not the way we wanted to end the season, losing at home in a play-in game. It’s unfortunate that it happened this way. We’re a much better team than what we showed and we have some of the best players in the state with an Eagle uniform on. I can’t take anything away from what North Eugene did, though, as they just flat-out beat us.”
The Eagles had chances to win, but were unable to capitalize on scoring opportunities, including leaving three runners stranded in the second inning when they loaded the bases and had just one out. In the bottom of the seventh the Eagles had a solid shot at the comeback with two runners on base and a batter at the plate representing the tying run four times. They were unable to get the clutch hit they needed, though.
The game turned out to be a pitcher’s duel as HRV sophomore Ryan Ward (six strikeouts, five hits allowed, three walks) held strong on the mound against North Eugene’s starting pitcher Kevin Haase. Following a scoreless first frame, Ward kept the Highlander bats quiet in the second, as well.
It appeared the Eagles would get on the scoreboard first as three of their first four batters singled in the bottom of the inning to load the bags with one out. Kam Walker (1-for-3), Ward (1-for-3) and freshman Skyler Hunter (1-for-2) each connected for singles to reach base, but Haase was able to get out of the jam without surrendering a run.
“My hat is off to the North Eugene pitcher (Haase),” said Harjo. “He kept us off-balance and we just couldn’t get into any offensive rhythm. Ward is our No. 1 guy; he threw a tough game and he did everything that you would expect your best pitcher to do. When we don’t support him with good hitting though, it kind of makes it tough. He can’t get strikeouts all the time or get everyone to hit a groundout and that’s the way it goes.”
After North Eugene scored in the third to go up 1-0, Haase held HRV hitless for four consecutive innings to keep the score 1-0 going into the seventh. The Highlanders took advantage of back-to-back walks in the final inning to add another run to the board.
In HRV’s final at-bat of the season, senior centerfielder Luke Kopecky drew a lead-off walk from Highlander relief pitcher Jordan Barrett. A one-out single by Hunter, who drilled a line drive to left field, gave the Eagles two runners. After junior Alix Jimenez (1-for-4) reached on a fielder’s choice, the Eagles were in good shape to at least tie the game. Senior Ryan Colesar then blasted a ball deep to left field, but it was easily grabbed by a North Eugene outfielder for the final out.
Like his teammates, HRV catcher Kyle Beam (1-for-3), who led the Eagles offense (.506, 42 hits, 34 RBI, 32 runs) all year with an impressive, struggled against North Eugene.
“Beam just got a little impatient at the plate,” said Harjo. “We can’t expect him to hit everything off the wall and that’s the way things go sometimes in baseball.”
For seniors Beam, Kopecky, Colesar, Nick Weekly, Jacob Quintanilla and Ty Bofferding, the game marked the conclusion of their HRV careers.
“We have a good group of seniors who will move on to do something else and I’m sad to see them go,” said Harjo. “We have a lot of promising young players in our program though and we’ll definitely focus on those guys during the summer.”
On a positive note, a number of Eagles earned prestigious postseason honors. Beam, Jimenez and Colesar each earned Columbia River Conference First Team All-Star awards. Kopecky, Walker, Kellan Duffy and Ward earned CRC Second Team awards and Weekly received a CRC Honorable Mention award.