‘We did a lot of good, but it’s a tough pill to swallow at the end,” said Knappa coach Jeff Miller, whose team suffered one of its toughest defeats in years. Actually, one of its only defeats in years.
A “tough loss” is putting it mildly, as Umpqua Valley Christian’s unlikely 12-10 win Tuesday over the No. 1-ranked, two-time defending state champion Loggers will hurt for some time.
Miller’s team has won a lot of games — 20 in a row coming into Tuesday’s game, and 62 of their last 63 — so losing a game at home, in a state semifinal, after holding a big lead, this one definitely hurts.
But, as Miller said, “It’s never easy. Win or lose, it’s never easy to say goodbye to seniors.”
And, after watching Umpqua Valley battle from a nine-run deficit, he said, “You don’t see that every day, thankfully. Hats off to (the Monarchs), for keeping on fighting, and taking advantage of the opportunities they had. I’m still proud of our kids. They battled and fought.”
Considering how they lost it, it was even more difficult to believe.
Two years ago, the Loggers overcame a 9-1 deficit to beat Reedsport 10-9 in the 2017 state championship.
In Tuesday’s game, Knappa held a 9-0 lead after three innings.
And even though Logger starting pitcher Eli Takalo suffered an arm injury in the first inning, Knappa’s Logan Flues was pitching well in relief, the Loggers were racking up hits left and right, and the Monarchs were having problems making the most routine plays.
Takalo “had been perfectly fine,” Miller said. “He said the second pitch of the game he felt something.”
Takalo threw a few warm-up pitches, but “his arm just wasn’t able to pitch. I hope for his sake that it’s minor, and that he’s back healthy and strong soon.”
Takalo moved to first base, and Flues took over on the mound.
Meanwhile, Umpqua Valley — which had outscored its last six opponents by a combined 69-3 — had given up four runs in the first two innings.
The Loggers began to pile up the runs in the third, scoring twice then adding a three-run, line drive homer by Logan Bartlett to make it 9-0.
“We had some great performances, starting with Flues coming in during trying circumstances and doing a brilliant job,” Miller said. “And our at-bats, we put tough pitches in play, with hard hits all day long. I could go down the entire list. Guys were crushing the ball.”
The momentum started to turn in the fourth, when the Monarchs scored three runs. Knappa answered with a run in the bottom of the fourth, but Umpqua Valley came back even stronger in the fifth.
A pair of walks was followed by a single and a two-run double from Aaron Buechley — the first of a pair of two-run doubles by the Monarchs.
Jacob Luther and Buechley added two-run singles, as Buechley drove in four runs on two hits in the inning.
By the time it was over, the Monarchs held a 12-10 lead. And that would be the final score.
Knappa threatened to regain the lead in the sixth, when the Loggers loaded the bases with one out.
But Bartlett’s grounder to third resulted in a 5-3 double play to end the inning.
Knappa even had back-to-back, two-out singles by Ryson Patterson and Devin Hoover in the seventh, before Buechley — Umpqua’s third pitcher of the day — retired the final batter.
The Loggers finished with 15 hits, while both teams combined to strand 24 runners (13 by Knappa, 11 for Umpqua Valley).