Not Dallas. Not Putnam. Not Pendleton. And finally, not even No. 1 Liberty.
Nobody could touch HRV.
The Eagles, who shut down and shut out every team they had faced in the 5A State Tournament thus far, stayed true to form in the finals on Saturday, knocking off the top-ranked Falcons, 2-0, at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer to claim the school’s first baseball state title in a quarter century. They were the only team to shut out all their opponents in the OSAA playoffs in any classification, giving up a total of just 10 hits in four games.
“It’s going to be a long time before I come down off of this one,” HRV coach Erich Harjo said after the game. “These kids work, and they work, and they work, and they work, and this type of performance, this type of win, completely validates the bad hops off the chest, the scrapes, the bumps, the bruises, the tears, the broken jaws — it just completely validates everything that we do.”
On paper, No. 7 HRV had a tough matchup, not only playing against the top-ranked team overall, but Liberty’s top-ranked defense (51 runs allowed) and the No. 5 offense (213 runs scored) in 5A as well.
After the game, however, HRV’s ace, Ryan Ward, felt those rankings were immaterial.
“They’re the number one team in the state,” he said of the Falcons, and then, after a brief pause: “I think we’re the number one team in the state.”
How about you, Coach Harjo?
“They hadn’t faced the number one pitcher yet,” he noted, referring to Ward.
The Eagles exuded as much confidence during the game as they did in their post-game interviews, controlling the action from beginning to end and establishing an early lead that was never threatened by the Falcons. Earlier in the week, both teams had come off semifinal games that went to extra innings — HRV defeated Pendleton, 1-0, in eight innings and Liberty defeated Summit, 2-1, in 14 — but it was Liberty that looked the worse for wear, making mistakes at crucial points in the game.
After a quick first inning, with three batters up, then down for both teams, HRV capitalized on one of those mistakes in the top of the second. With bases loaded and two outs, designated hitter Chase Lariza popped one up to third base in what should have been a routine fly out. However, two Liberty infielders lost the ball in the scorching hot afternoon sun, allowing right fielder Patrick Harvey to score, much to the delight of HRV’s dugout, as well as the sizable HRV contingent that had traveled to watch the Eagles play.
Up 1-0, HRV grabbed the insurance and final run of the game in the top of the fourth, thanks to back-to-back errors made by Liberty’s infield with two outs on the board. Senior left fielder Riley Van Hoose scored the final run, courtesy of a hit from senior second baseman Kameron Walker. A pitching change for Liberty was made in the last inning, but it was too little and too late.
Liberty never looked like it could quite figure HRV out, Ward in particular. The senior pitched all seven innings in his final game for the Eagles, striking out 10 batters for his second game in a row and by the seventh inning, had pitched 64 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. He gave up five hits in three of the four games he pitched in the playoffs, pitched a no-hitter in a 5-0 game over Dallas, and pitched a no-hitter through six innings of Saturday’s game, giving up two in the seventh. In the team photo with the championship trophy, taken after athletes climbed out of a chaotic dogpile, most players put up their index fingers to make the traditional “No. 1” sign. Ward and Walker, however, made a “zero” sign, indicating the number of runs they gave up as pitchers in the playoffs this season
But like rankings, the number of hits or the number of runs given up didn’t matter that much to Ward, with the only meaningful statistic to him being the final score of the final game.
“I gave up a couple (hits), but I don’t care, I don’t care at all,” he said, giving a dismissive wave. “It would’ve been nice to throw a no-hitter in the state championship and in the first game of the playoffs, but we won it, so I don’t care.”
The batters that were able to connect with his pitches were stymied by HRV’s defense, undoubtedly the strongest point of the Eagles’ game this postseason. Of particular note was a double play to end the second inning, when Walker dove to field a hard ground ball hit to second base, rolled, flipped it up to shortstop Skyler Hunter, who caught it barehanded to get the out at second and then fired it to first baseman Montana Kurahara
Harjo was effusive in his praise of his players, calling Ward’s performance on the mound “one of the best I’ve seen,” and the aforementioned double play “stuff that you dream about in this kind of game.” He lauded Harvey’s offense (2 for 3, double, single) as well as Lariza’s (2 for 3, singles) and Van Hoose’s (1 for 2, single) ability to wear down Liberty’s starting pitcher, Renner Stecki. Harjo also gave kudos to Van Hoose’s performance in the outfield, who “made some great catches like a senior should.”
Rounding out the nine hits for HRV were third baseman Kellan Duffy (2 for 3, singles) and centerfielder Dallas Buckley (1 for 4, single), the latter of whom reader Mike Allegre tells us became part of the first father-son duo to win baseball state championships at the school, as Dallas’ father, Jeff Buckley was part of the team that won HRV’s first title in 1980 (confirmed by HRV Athletic Director Keith Bassham).
The win on Saturday was redemption for last year’s loss in the title game, which HRV dropped to Sandy, 8-3. Harjo said that players were “focused on today” and had pushed last year’s game out of their minds, although he noted that “having been here before helped us a ton” in being able to prepare for the game.
Ward, who in the fall heads to Washington State University where he will play Division I ball, said he had plenty of time to think about last year’s exit in the finals and was determined to make sure this year’s outcome was different.
“I’ve had about four days to think about this as my last game, so I was just trying to come out here and win it this year,” he said. “I mean, it was a terrible feeling last year; we’ve been thinking about this for 365 days, so it’s nice to bring one home for Hood River and share it with my teammates.”
The majority of HRV’s squad will be back in the fall, but will lose starters Ward, Walker, and Van Hoose to graduation, as well as reserves Austin Van Riper, Willie Ishizaka, and Rily Wilson, who could make a serious campaign for the game’s MVP, as he diligently wore a shark costume in the 90-plus degree heat, and served as HRV’s mascot in the postseason. Harjo said the costume was a vestige of last year’s playoff run, brought out as a way to keep things light for a team that was younger, less experienced, and major underdogs. As the team kept winning, though, it was viewed as more of a good-luck charm.
But the Eagles aren’t underdogs anymore. They’re champions. So, will the shark make a return next year?
“Absolutely,” Harjo said. “And we expect to be here again.”