ATHENA — When Weston-McEwen and Kennedy met in Irrigon in March, TigerScots coach T.J. Haguewood said the meeting already had a championship feeling to it.
Two months after the Trojans surged and turned a tight game into a 13-3 blowout, the teams are once again eyeing each other on the schedule for a neutral-site game. Weston-McEwen (22-4) and Kennedy (26-4) will play in the Class 2A/1A State Championship on Friday, each looking for the schools’ first state titles. First pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. from Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
The tournament brackets shook out much like the OSAA rankings intended. The championship game pits a pair of No. 1 seeds against each other for the crown. Weston-McEwen has the slight edge as the overall first seed and draws the benefit of the final at-bat as home team in the matchup.
“I always tried to hold back the kids when early in the season we were ranked No. 1,” the coach said. “We can’t get caught up in that because that meant nothing.”
The first time the squads faced off, Weston-McEwen was still very much in spring training mode. A slew of weather cancellations had the TigerScots looking rusty in just their second game of the year. Kennedy was playing its eighth.
TigerScots’ pitcher Dallas Reich started that game with 3 2/3 hitless innings and eight strikeouts before getting wild. Four straight walks and a pair of hits later, the staff ace was off the mound and his team was out of the game.
Now well seasoned — the senior hasn’t lost a game since, going 12-0 with a 2.14 season ERA and 115 strikeouts — Reich is salivating at another shot at the Trojans.
“I was talking to my dad yesterday and I was saying no matter what I’m pitching because this is the first state championship game I’ve played in,” Reich said. “I don’t care if my whole right hand is smashed, I’m going to figure out a way to throw the ball across the plate somehow.”
Kennedy counters with 2A/1A Player of the Year Franky Rodriguez, a senior power pitcher and leadoff hitter. He threw five innings in the first matchup to go with a 2-for-2 performance at the plate and five RBIs.
Rodriguez exemplifies Kennedy’s extremely well-rounded approach. The Trojans lead 2A/1A baseball in runs per game (9.8) and rank second in fewest allowed per game (2.8). Weston-McEwen’s normally enviable numbers (7.9 scored and 4.2 allowed) look pedestrian in comparison.
Kennedy’s numbers come with a grain of salt, coach Kevin Moffatt said, because his squad rolled to massive scores a few times in the preseason when opponents ran out of viable pitchers.
The Trojans won Special District 2 this spring behind of team of three seniors and a hoard of sophomores — “Hopefully they’re too dumb to think about (the pressures of a state title game), Moffatt said.
Both teams play solid defense, the Kennedy coach said, and something as small as advancing runners an extra base could prove crucial in a close game.
“The team that makes the routine plays is going to be sitting OK,” Moffatt said. “We’ve got to execute.”
Weston-McEwen catcher Elliot Salter gave a remarkably similar breakdown. The fine details will produce a winner, he said. Both teams are conditioned to capitalize on minor mistakes.
“As with every game, you have to cut down on the errors,” said Salter, who’s second on the team in batting with a .384 average to Reich’s .521. “It’s high school baseball. It’s not going to be a perfect game every time but don’t let those mistakes get to you.”
The Special District 6 champions this year, the Weston-McEwen boys will be drawing on some big-game experience from the fall for the trip to Keizer. The football team played in front of a hefty crowd at Hillsboro Stadium in November in the state semifinals. Although that turned into a 46-8 loss to Scio, the experience of being on the big stage should help, Jared Bond said.
“I imagine everybody will be a little nervous, but only nervous in the sense that we’re not surrounded by wheat fields anymore; it’s not the little, tiny Athena watching,” said Bond, the team’s No. 2 leading RBI producer with 23. “We’re finally getting to play at a stadium, so that’s pretty cool.”
The TigerScots can still expect plenty of cheers in Volcanoes Stadium, home of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Class-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. Weston-McEwen fans don’t shy away from long road trips, Haguewood said.
“We travel well regardless of whether we’re winning or losing,” Haguewood said, "but definitely if we’re winning.”
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.