The road to any championship game usually has some strange twists and turns along the way, with key turning points and adversities to overcome.
Of course, there are occasional programs like the Knappa Loggers, who had to make very few turns on their way to state titles in 2015 and 2018. The Loggers just jumped on the interstate and cruised to championships with records of 27-0 and 24-0, respectively.
Clatsop County’s latest contestant in a state championship baseball game (the ninth in the last 13 years), the 2019 Warrenton Warriors took the back roads to reach their destination.
Qualifying for their first championship game in 21 years, the Warriors took a unique route to reach Volcanoes Stadium.
When Astoria, Warrenton and Knappa went into the May 28 semifinals at three different levels — 4A, 3A and 2A — the one team probably least expected to advance was Warrenton.
With a combined 10 championship game appearances since 2006, it would have been no surprise to see both the Fishermen and Loggers win and make return trips to Keizer.
But Astoria and Knappa came up short in their bids to play at Volcanoes Stadium, while the Warriors scored their second straight victory over a top-three team to qualify for their first championship game since 1998.
It’s usually a key victory or a big upset that qualifies as the so-called “turning point.” While the 2019 Warriors had a few of each, it was two losses that served as a turning point.
“Our doubleheader loss at home (May 7) to Rainier really did something for us,” said Warrenton coach Lennie Wolfe. In addition to hearing some of the usual taunts from the Columbians after the game, the experience sparked the Warriors into getting better.
Warrenton swept a twinbill from Catlin Gabel two days later, which was followed one day after that by a loss at Monroe.
Three losses in a five-day span gave the Warriors a lot to work on.
“And (after the loss at Monroe) we had an 11-day break before we even played our next game,” Wolfe said. “That really gave us time to focus on the things we needed to do to get better.”
Mission accomplished, apparently, since after their loss May 11, the Warriors scored wins over teams that finished second, third and 10th in the final regular-season rankings.
“The kids feel good about their achievements,” Wolfe said. “And again, such a big part, they know they’ve earned it. I know I’m kind of hammering away at that, but they’ve earned it.”
And sometimes it isn’t just the figurative road to the finals that teams must overcome. Sometimes the literal road is just as tough.
“To go down and beat Brookings — not only the length of the trip — but it was the nature of some of those miles to get there,” Wolfe said.
Two days before Warrenton made the trip, the Amity Warriors had to play a first-round game at Brookings, and lost 8-1.
Referring to Highway 199, Wolfe said, “the Amity kids were physically ill going over that same road (which dips down into California before reaching Highway 101, then north to Brookings). It’s not an easy trek. What an incredible home field advantage.
“And we handled it,” he said. “I never heard a single kid complain about the length of the trip, or about the nature of the driving. And then, ‘OK guys, we’re going to go home, and then turn around (three days later) and go to Santiam Christian.”
The Warriors had been to Santiam Christian earlier in the year — and lost, 8-1 — but “we’re not the same team,” Wolfe said. “The boys have known it, and they looked forward to another chance to play Santiam Christian.”
After collecting just five hits and striking out 10 times in their loss to the Eagles back on March 29, the Warriors had nine hits and scored seven earned runs off starting pitcher Sean Riley in the rematch, setting up Warrenton’s trip to the 2019 state championship.