The Hood River Valley baseball team’s season ended May 23 at Sandy, where the Eagles lost 7-6 in the first round of the 5A OSAA state playoffs.
This was a matchup against the 11th-ranked Eagles and sixth-ranked Pioneers.
Earlier this season, HRV lost in Sandy by a final score of 4-2, but that was the same Eagles team that had lost seven out of nine games to open the season, not the HRV team that went into the opening round of the playoffs with momentum after closing out the regular season winning 13 of 17 games, including six out of seven.
HRV had built up a 4-0 lead through the first four innings, but a one run inning in the bottom of the fourth and a controversial bottom of the fifth inning resulted in a three run fifth for the Pioneers, trying the game at 4-4.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, “the home plate umpire blew a bunt call that was clearly foul,” said head coach Erich Harjo. “He froze, made an extremely late call that forced us to throw the ball after a stand still. The ball made it past first base and two runs scored. Hitter made it to third and next batter hit a sacrifice fly. Clearly changed the momentum of this game.”
After the fifth inning, HRV and Sandy went scoreless in the sixth and heading into the seventh, both teams were still locked even at four.
HRV scored two runs in the top of the seventh to take a 6-4 lead, but the Pioneers in the bottom of the seventh scored three runs, including a walk-off two-run single by Sandy’s Colby Carson, advancing Sandy to the second round of the OSAA Baseball State Championships and sending the Eagles home.
“Life isn’t fair sometimes,” was the message from Harjo to his team after the first-round exit. “Sometimes the better-performing team doesn’t win and as we all know, baseball is a game of momentum. One questionable call can completely change the complexity of a game.”
Before that questionable call in the bottom of the fifth, HRV had full control over the Pioneers.
HRV opened the game with back-to-back ground outs and with two outs in the first two at-bats, this inning seemed to be over for the Eagles.
However, a three run two-out rally followed the back-to-back outs to open the top of the first.
Connor Coerper was hit by a pitch in the third at-bat of the inning, and then Caden Leiblein hit a single to left field that advanced Coerper to third.
In the fourth at-bat of the inning, Isaac Beaman hit a line drive single to right field, bringing in Coerper for the first run of the game; HRV 1-0.
A double by Ryan Gray loaded the bases for senior Trenton Hough.
Hough took the first pitch of the at-bat and hit a two-run double to center field; 3-0 HRV.
In the home half of the first, HRV’s starting pitcher Coerper struck out the side to move into the second inning.
Both teams went scoreless in the second and third innings.
In the top of the fourth, Brandon Smiley opened the inning for HRV with a double.
After a passed ball that advanced Smiley to third base, Brandon Rivera hit a sacrifice fly that brought Smiley home, giving HRV a 4-0 lead with one out in the top of the fourth.
Greyson Losee hit a double in the following at-bat, bringing up JJ Mears.
Mears would hit a pop out, and Losee remained at second.
In the next at-bat, Losee advanced to third on a passed ball and then Coerper took first base after a walk.
Leiblein, who hit a single in his first at-bat, fouled off three-straight pitches to stay alive, but on the sixth pitch popped out to end the inning.
Sandy opened the bottom of the fourth with a single and walk.
Coerper picked up the first out of the inning on a ground out in the third at-bat.
With runners on third and second, the Pioneers’ hit a sacrifice fly that brought in the first run of the game for Sandy; HRV 4-1.
The inning would end on a strikeout, Coerper’s seventh of the day.
HRV was unable to put anything together in the top of the fifth, and the Eagles had a 4-1 lead heading into the controversial bottom of the fifth inning.
The inning opened with Coerper’s eighth strikeout, but two errors, an intentional walk and a sacrifice fly followed, scoring three Sandy runs and tying the game at 4-4 heading into the sixth.
A scoreless six inning for both sides meant for an exciting seventh inning, as a chance to head to the second round of the OSAA Baseball State Champions was on the line.
HRV opened the top of the seventh with a walk by Beaman and a single by Gray, bringing up Hough.
Hough laid down a sacrifice bunt that advanced pinch runner Chris McElwee to third and Gray to second.
In the fourth at-bat of the inning, Smiley advanced to first on a walk, loading the bases for Rivera.
Rivera would strikeout for the second out of the inning.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Losee was up to bat.
In the third pitch of the at-bat, Sandy’s pitcher threw a pitch that passed the Sandy catcher, bringing in McElwee from third base, regaining the lead for HRV; HRV 5-4.
Losee was intentionally walked after the play, loading the bases for Mears.
Although Mears had struggled in this game, going 1-4 with a double heading into this at-bat, he stayed composed and took four straight pitches for balls to bring in Gray to score the Eagles sixth run of the game; HRV 6-4.
Coerper would strikeout to end the top of the seventh.
Sandy opened the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back batters getting on base, and in the third at-bat of the inning Sandy’s Dukart hit a single on a ground ball to second base that brought in one run for the Pioneers; 6-5 HRV.
HRV picked up the first out of the inning following the run, but a walk would follow and with one out Sandy had runners on third and second.
In the sixth at-at bat of the inning, Sandy’s Carson hit the first pitch Losee threw for a line drive single to right field that brought in both runners for a walk-off two-run single. The final score: Sandy 7-6.
HRV ends the season with a 15-12 overall record and an 8-4 conference record, including a second place finish in the Columbia River Conference.
“We had a had a lot of question marks in multiple positions heading into this year,” said Harjo. “With that being said, I was very impressed with the toughness and resilience our team showed this season. I never truly felt like we were out of a game. Players were supportive of one another and I honestly think this was the most well-rounded team I have ever coached.”
Harjo went on to explain that this wasn’t his most talented team, “but this team would pick each other up and nip at each other’s heels to push the envelope.
“The emergence of JJ Mears and Isaac Beaman was huge for us this season. Those two provided us consistency and production,” said Harjo. “Also, with Michael Hasegawa and Jose Santillan working side by side for a majority of the season was really neat to watch. There were way more positives than negatives this season. Happy to see our seniors Connor Coerper, JJ Mears and Trenton Hough thrive to end their high school careers.”
With the 2018 HRV baseball season in the books, I asked Harjo what the future holds for HRV baseball. “I like where the program is at right now,” he said. “Hood River baseball will be competitive year in and out.
“I have to give a big shout out to Nathan Duckwall, who is working really hard with Little League and 13/14 youth baseball. I also need to recognize David Hough, who has done a great job with our Babe Ruth players, as well as James Nygren, who has resurfaced our high school summer program and is doing a great job scheduling competitive tournaments,” said Harjo. “Looking forward to next year and the years to come.”