KEIZER — The Warrenton Warriors went all-out to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their 1994 state championship season.
The celebration even included an actual re-enactment of their drive to the state title game.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, the climactic scene did not turn out the same as did in ‘94.
La Pine scored four runs in the bottom of the second inning, then let pitcher Adam Plant do the rest in Friday night’s Class 3A baseball state championship game at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, where the Hawks celebrated an 8-1 win over the Warriors.
La Pine’s junior right-hander scattered seven hits, struck out nine and walked just one for a complete-game victory. Plant threw 105 pitches on the 80-degree night in Keizer, outdueling Warrenton pitcher Dalton Knight.
The Warriors’ senior left-hander also gave up seven hits, but walked four and hit one batter, while the Warrior defense committed five errors, three in the decisive second inning.
Warrenton coach Lennie Wolfe didn’t make excuses for his ball club.
“We just ran out of juice,” he said. “In previous games, we were so solid defensively, and whenever we needed the big hit or the big inning offensively, we’d get it. Today we were never able to put the hits together. It just didn’t happen.
“A big part of it was Plant,” he said. “He was really tough on the hill, and they were very sound defensively. They made the plays.”
And at the plate, the Hawks “came through with men on base.”
Like in the second inning, when the Hawks jumped on the scoreboard with four runs.
La Pine loaded the bases with no outs, and after sophomore Isaac Bright was hit by a pitch to force in the first run, Plant delivered a two-run single to shallow right field for a 3-0 lead. Another run scored on Warrenton’s third error of the inning.
La Pine tacked on two runs in the bottom of the third, before the Warriors scored their lone run in the fourth.
Jacob Morrow had a leadoff double, then sprinted home moments later on an infield error on a ground ball from Duane Falls.
There would be more highlights for the Warriors, including a one-out double for Morrow in the sixth inning. The junior catcher was named by the OSAA as Warrenton’s Player of the Game.
There were, however, no more runs for the Warriors.
Morrow was stranded at third in the sixth, and Warrenton came up empty in the seventh, despite loading the bases with one out.
Alec Herrera had a leadoff double, Kale’o Kapua reached on an infield pop fly, and freshman Ethan Caldwell slapped a one-out hit to center.
But after a few discussions on the mound, Plant remained in the game and retired the next two batters to set off a big celebration for the Hawks, now back-to-back champions of 3A baseball.
“Mentally, we were not on point,” Morrow said. “Out of the whole entire tournament, this was the biggest game where we lacked the mental focus.
“From playing Burns, then going to Brookings and Santiam … in the beginning of those games, they were trying to catch up to us.”
Against La Pine, he said, “we were just a little bit behind in the mental focus. We had five errors.
“It was a really big loss,” Morrow added, “and it’s definitely going to sting for awhile, but there’s a lot of things that we can take from it. It’s going to make us better for next year. We’ll be more familiar with everything. The whole experience was good, and we deserved to be there — that’s what we got out of it. We earned it, and deserved to be in that spot.”
Warrenton’s latest cast of characters — which, two years ago was just 1-17 overall — may not have seen the last of Volcanoes Stadium, as the Warriors lose only four seniors, and just two starters, Kapua and Knight.
In fact, this year’s top contenders at the 3A level may also be the top contenders in 2020.
“Santiam Christian loses two starters, La Pine only loses two starters, and we lose two starters,” Wolfe said. “So I wouldn’t be shocked to see all of us back and contending again next year.”
One part of the play that hasn’t changed since 1994 — the director is still the same.
Wolfe has been the coach for all four Warrenton championship game appearances (1993, ‘94, ‘98, 2019). After arriving at Warrenton in 1992, the coach with over 500 career wins took the Warriors to two championship games in his first three years, before Warrenton’s third trip to the finals in 1998.
Many of the ex-Warriors players from those teams were in attendance Friday, along with a good percentage of the Warrenton population.
And, like the sea of purple in the stands Friday at Volcanoes Stadium, the near-future of Oregon 3A baseball looks very purple. Warrenton purple.
“We’ll meet Monday and talk about the summer and going forward, but we’ll also look back at how significant this was,” Wolfe said. “To go from 1-17 in 2017, to where are now … we wouldn’t have expected to end up where we did.”
Said Morrow, “We will definitely have our times next year when we miss Dalton and Kale’o, but we have enough to come back and make a punch again. Dalton and Kale’o were our anchors, because they were there from Day 1. We will have to finish it for them.”