Knappa junior Eli Takalo

Knappa has one of the best pitchers in the state on the mound, in junior Eli Takalo.

For the last four years, the Knappa Loggers have certainly been the class of Class 2A baseball. Appearances in the state title game in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, with championships in three of the four years. For the Loggers, the only goal from one year to the next is, “How do we improve?”

Just one thing: How do they improve on perfection?

The Loggers were 24-0 last season, two years after going 27-0. Nationally, Knappa went into the season with the nation’s longest win streak, which reached 42 until a recent loss.

Time to start a new run with a new team.

Not surprisingly, the 2019 Loggers were voted No. 1 in a preseason coaches poll, and that’s likely where they’ll stay. For the past four years, the only legitimate question in Oregon 2A baseball has been: Who will Knappa play in the state championship?

There may be new challengers from one year to the next, but the one constant has been the Loggers.

Knappa lost some key seniors, but then again, so did everyone else.

“Every year you lose ‘em,” said Knappa coach Jeff Miller, of last year’s talent-laden roster, which included three players now on college baseball rosters. “Obviously there was a core group of seniors last year that had been through a lot of games and success together.

“Even if you bring back all nine starters, it’s a brand new year and you’re starting all over again.”

The rest of the state, meanwhile, has been trying to catch the Loggers for the last three years. And they still haven’t caught ‘em.

Until someone does, Knappa is the likely favorite to win the state title this year and next. (When you’ve got a junior pitcher on the roster who has a 2-0 record in state championship games, who else would it be?).

THE NWL

New league member St. Paul “is a top four or five team in the state, and they return everybody,” Miller said. “They have one of the better pitchers in the state, a lefty, (Justin) Herberger. They lost that dramatic upset to Monroe in the playoffs last year.

“They return everybody this year, with a new coach (Dwayne Nowlin). With their proven talent on the field, they would be a favorite in the Northwest League. They’re not going to lose many baseball games.”

Before they start thinking league championship, however, the Buckaroos should keep in mind that Knappa is the team with a 99-3 league record over the last five years.

Elsewhere, “Portland Christian is back. I saw them beat a good Rainier team last year,” Miller said. “They’re on their way back up.

“Nestucca will have one of the better pitchers in the league (Mitchell Richwine), and the state for that matter. They will be capable of beating anyone in the league.

“It’s going to be very competitive. It should be a good year for the Northwest League.”

THE LOGGERS

While the Loggers lost first team all-state pitcher Dale Takalo (the state Player of the Year), they replaced him with an offseason transfer, senior Tristin Wallace from Astoria.

But it all starts with Eli Takalo, the junior who is unbeaten in state championship games.

“Eli will certainly be one of the better pitchers,” Miller said. “Actually 2A is pretty loaded this year, pitcher-wise. Reedsport, Umpqua Valley and some other places, they’ve got some top-end pitchers.

“We know we have one of them. One of our goals in the early season is to try and build some depth behind Eli. He will be the anchor of the staff, then we have six or seven guys. It might be one of those years, where you ask a guy, ‘can you give me three outs?’ Then on to the next guy.”

The next guy is Wallace, a senior who missed a year of baseball due to a football injury. Or it could be Jaxson Goodman, or Logan Flues, or Devin Hoover.

“We have lots of unknowns on the mound,” Miller said. “There are six to eight guys who might throw for us.

“One of our better arms is Ryson Patterson. But he’s learning at catcher, and that’s a full-time job. So it’s hard to bring him out from behind the plate.

“That’s one of our challenges, not a lot of depth at the catcher position. One of our better arms on the mound is also our No. 1 catcher.”

Meanwhile, “it’s been a while since (Wallace) has picked up a baseball,” Miller said. “He’s a good player. He has a strong foundation, from his youth days in Knappa and his high school years before he got hurt. He’s working hard and will be one of our better arms and one of our better bats.”

Other seniors on the roster include infielder Ryker Coffey, outfielders Luke Goozee, Tyler Green, Shaun Lackey, and third baseman Logan Bartlett, one of the best hitters at the 2A level.

“Lackey is a solid player, can play every position, and we’re hoping he can be an everyday outfielder,” Miller said. “Ryker Coffey returns at second base, and he’s very solid.”

In addition to Goodman and Takalo, the junior class has Patterson and first baseman Mason Westerholm.

Also contributing will be Hoover and sophomore Cameron Miethe, and freshman Drew Miller.

Miller’s assistant coaches are Kirk Miller and Tim Miller.

Prediction: If the Loggers can spend the preseason beating big-school teams from San Francisco and Denver, they can handle anyone from the 2A level in Oregon. With a 1-2 punch of Takalo and Wallace on the mound, the Loggers appear unbeatable. Again. For the third year in a row, state champions.

KNAPPA BASEBALL

Coach: Jeff Miller, 18th year

2018: 24-0 (12-0 NWL)

Playoffs: Defeated Pilot Rock in state championship, 7-1

All-league losses: Dale Takalo (MVP), Reuben Cruz, Mason Hoover, Kaleb Miller, Colton Weirup.

All-league returners: Logan Bartlett, Sr., Ryker Coffey, Sr., Shaun Lackey, Sr., Eli Takalo, Jr.

Gary Henley is a sports reporter for The Daily Astorian. Contact him at 503-861-8493 or ghenley@dailyastorian.com.

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