By Jeremy McDonald
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore.– The Post 20 Dirtbags have built a program and organization of success over the near-decade the squad has existed in the American Legion Triple-A realm, having only missed the playoffs once over their team history.
And for them, to be battling for a spot in the Championship Wednesday has become the annual goal for the Dirtbags as they lined up against that one team who gave them their lone loss in the tournament in Eugene.
With third-year Post 20 pitcher Jaret Stewart on the mound, the Dallas-Grad and the incoming second-year Western Oregon University pitcher was looking to continue to be that gamer he has became these past few years in the semi-final game.
“My goal coming here was to pitch and to get us in the best spot to win the ballgame,” starts Stewart. “They got two-runs in the fourth and we came back the next inning and got two more runs to tie it up. I tried to go and battled as long as I could, fatigue kind of caught up to me there at the end and we had a sac-ball opportunity that didn’t go our way.”
He was one of the last guys to leave the post-game huddle following their tough 3-2, eight inning defeat to the Challengers Wednesday, but he threw a five-pitch first inning and had 29 pitches entering the third with the mindset as his teammates did to go until they can’t no more.
Noah Juarez led the back seven with several defensive stops in the first two innings to keep the score knotted up at zero entering the third.
A stuck pass-ball in the back-stop stuck Blake Arritola, who was at first following a walk, at second instead at third as Eugene protested saying their catcher couldn’t find the ball that saved a possible run from scoring in the first.
But down 2-0 entering the fourth inning after the Challengers scored two in the bottom of the third, Arritola ripped a two-run double to tie the game up at two entering the bottom half of the inning.
And with the pressure, the tough breaks out on the diamond, the philosophy of staying within themselves that First-Year Dirtbag Head Coach James Leach has preached all year held strong coming down the stretch.
“We stayed online. We didn’t get too high, we didn’t get too low with the bad calls, we stuck with it and we gave ourselves a chance and it just didn’t go our way in the seventh inning,” said Arritola. “We stayed on the line, we didn’t go up or down.”
Stewart pitched and pitched and pitched until his arm fell off, his defense busted their tails for stops with the game still tied at 2 entering the seventh inning when Juarez singled.
Here’s where it felt like some of the air was let out of the balloon for the Post 20 squad. Braden Allison sent a bunt down the line and pitcher Cole Wilkinson, Wilkinson scooped the ball and threw it to CJ Townsend at second. Juarez tags the base as Townsend came down for the tag, beating the throw only to be called out for the first out of the inning that had the Dirtbags asking how.
The call stood and Jacob Maiben would groundout into a double play to end the inning.
Stewart and Wilkinson traded quick innings entering the bottom of the eighth where Stewart, pushing nearly 100 pitches at this point, got a pop out to Emiliano Alacron to start the inning. Stewart, like many of the older guys aging out of the program, wanted to leave their mark for what the expectations are for Dirtbag baseball.
“I just kind of had the attitude of I just got to show up and show that I can be the best pitcher on our team and give the younger guys on the team what next year is going to be like for them when they come back,” said Stewart. “And I know a lot of them are looking to get back to it next year.”
Fatigue began to sink in for Stewart as a single, hit by pitch and walk loaded up the bases before he exited the game for the last time in a Dirtbag uniform and incoming West Salem Junior pitcher Hector Amador came in for relief.
Amador forced a pop-out to Allison for the second out, Allison hummed it to Alacron at home, but the throw was not in time as the winning run came across home for the win Wednesday afternoon.
Three years ago, Post 20 finished second in the State Tournament, last year it was fourth-place and this year they were third in State, leaving a continuing mark behind for those coming into the program that this is Dirtbag baseball.
“The Dirtbags are just a team that are always competitive. We get great guys and I think the whole time this team has been a program, we’ve only missed the State Tournament once,” said Arritola. “We’re always here competing and we’re usually one of the best teams in the State to make it to the last day or the second to last day. It’s just the program and the coaches that get us there.”
For the younger guys like an Amador, who’s going to be one of the bigger names in the rotation, getting these valuable reps is going to help them down the road with team ball or whoever they’re playing for.
“Honeslty it’s good to see competition and I’m ready to see where it comes to next and I hope to play more and see a lot more competition next year,” said Amador.
Eugene finished State Runner-Up to Medford 5-4. The Challengers rallied from 5-1 down with three runs in the seventh inning.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald