Huskies blow past Newport, fall to La Grande in playoffs

Sean C. Morgan

La Grande walked most of the way through the state baseball quarterfinals, courtesy of Sweet Home, to beat the Huskies 4-0 Friday evening on the road.

“Lots and lots and lots of walks,” said Coach John Best. “That was the tale of the game. We walked in the first run (in the second inning).”

Bases were loaded, and La Grande had two outs, said Best, then La Grande walked into the run.

He said La Grande had one hit all day, a triple in the fourth to score two runners who reached base on a walk, followed by an error that led to another run.

Sophomore Colton Smith gave up eight walks and one batter hit by pitch while striking out four or five, Best said. “When Colton was throwing strikes, they couldn’t touch him. He was our best option.”

Smith threw five innings, Best said. Fisher Anderson pitched the sixth, three up, three down.

Senior Devin Stafford led the way on the mound in the play-in round against Newport, but his pitch count was too high and he couldn’t pitch at La Grande. Senior Daniel Virtue remained injured and unable to play.

At La Grande, on the defensive side, Stafford said, in addition to giving up walks, the Huskies made “a couple of stupid little errors. With bases loaded, you can’t make little errors.”

On the other side of the plate, they couldn’t seem to get their bats going, Stafford said. He thought La Grande’s pitcher was all right and had a good curve ball.

La Grande pitcher Brad Bell had a career game, and the Huskies had a hard time figuring him out, said catcher Keanu Aiona. “He was just fooling us all the time.”

The Huskies had a couple of big plays in the game, Keegan Holly and Kobe Olson throwing runners out at the plate, Best said.

The La Grande game followed a 10-3 victory over Newport in the first round of playoffs on May 24 at home.

In that game, the Huskies stopped Newport’s first three batters, one striking out, to open the game. The Huskies scored their winning run in the bottom of the first inning.

Holly walked, then stole second. Aiona scored him to get things going, and then scored himself on a wild pitch.

The Huskies held Newport to three-up, three-down a second time and then scored another pair of runs to lead 4-0. The Huskies led 7-0 going into the fourth inning when the Cubs managed to score their first run followed by another pair in the top of the fifth.

The Huskies scored their final three runs in the bottom of the fifth when Smith reached on a double and Austin James knocked him in. Holly singled to score James and Nick Marler, who reached on a walk.

“I was really disappointed right after the (La Grande) game,” Best said, but “the kids played wonderful. I think they exceeded expectations.”

They did something special, Best said, and they were just two games short of the biggest win.

“It’s probably one of my most favorite seasons of the year,” Aiona said.

The team has always had good friendships, but they were closer this year, Stafford said. “This year, everyone was a part of it. We all got along.”

“We’ve done something that Sweet Home hasn’t done in a long time,” he said. The key this season is “definitely the way we all got along.”

Aiona agreed.

“We’ve been playing together since we were super young,” he said. “We were a baseball family. All we did was go out and have fun and play baseball how everyone should play it.”

The friendships created a chemistry among the players.

That made it fun, and baseball is supposed to be fun, Stafford said. “Definitely was a good way to go out. Of all my years, this was definitely the best.”

At the beginning of the year Coach (Jim) Hagle said something about state championship, Stafford said. Stafford was skeptical till about halfway through the season. Then the Huskies beat Sisters, and he began seeing the potential for playoffs.

“Once we beat Newport, I was thinking we could do it,” Stafford said.

Aiona was confident early on, he said. “I think the only people who thought could go as far as we did were the coaches and the guys on the team. We showed a lot of people what we were capable of.”

They fell short, but ranked fifth in the state, they were in the hunt, having beaten top-ranked Sisters.

“I think Devin was one of the most key factors,” Aiona said. South Umpqua in the play-in game and Newport in the first round of playoffs were “team wins, but Devin carried us there.”

With Daniel Virtue out with an injury and Smith, at shortstop and pitcher, being so young, Aiona isn’t certain the Huskies would have gone as deep into playoffs as they did without Stafford.

Virtue pitched against the more difficult teams, Aiona said, and he schooled Sky-Em player of the Year Zach Morgan of Sisters at the plate in their final matchup of the year.

Virtue was “our top outfielder,” Aiona said. “He read the ball super well. He would show up when we needed him. I think losing Daniel was really hard on everybody.”

James, a junior, stepped up to make the plays in center field, Aiona said, and Stafford handled pitching duties well.

“He’s been huge all year,” Aiona said. “Devin was a little shaky in the beginning. His curve ball wasn’t where he wanted.”

But it came together, and he was the key against South Umpqua and Newport, Aiona said.

“Devin Stafford had a tremendous year,” Best said. “He’s kind of become a team leader for us.”

Stafford hit three home runs with a batting average of .317, Best said. He went 8-2 pitching and did an outstanding job for his team.

Virtue went 5-1 pitching, hitting .403, Best said. Aiona hit three home runs with a batting average of .329. “He did a fantastic job catching.”

Smith also had an outstanding year, Best said. He hit .456 and collected 21 RBIs. Pitching, he went 4-2.

Best did a great job this season too and had a lot of drive, Aiona said. He’s among Aiona’s favorite coaches.

“Coach Best really wanted it, and he made us want it,” Aiona said. “I think he just wanted us to want it as bad as he did.”

Sweet Home 000 000 0 – 0 4 3

La Grande 010 300 x – 0 1 1

Smith, Anderson (6) and Aiona. WP: Bell. LP: Smith.

Newport 000 120 0 – 3 7 2

Sweet Home 223 030 x – 10 8 2

Dobeier, Boys (2) and Crowell. Stafford and Aiona. WP: Stafford. LP: Dobmeier.