There were plenty of highlights surrounding the Columbia Gorge 18U ‘AAA’ Hustlers this season.
The Hustlers finished with a winning percentage of .760 and secured an opening-round game at the recently completed Oregon ‘AAA’ American Legion State Tournament at Harry and David Field in Medford, but suffered defeat in their final two games to end the 2013 campaign.
“Although we were out of the tournament Friday, the coaching staff could not be any more proud of the way these guys competed at this tournament and all year long,” said manager J.R. Runyon.
“They truly came together as a group this summer and they did everything we asked of them.”
Before losing 3-2 to the Dirtbags and 13-6 to the Northwest Star Knights, the Hustlers burst out of the starting gates with a 3-0 shutout victory over a heavily favored Medford squad that was the front-runner to win it all.
Entering play, Medford had amassed a 28-18 record and never before had suffered a shutout setback.
Connor Mathisen made sure those winning ways came to a screeching halt, using his arm and bat to lead his squad to a win.
The Hustler southpaw went 1 for 3 with three RBIs and on the mound, he used 91 pitches in nine-inning masterpiece where he scattered five hits, struck out three and walked one.
In that masterpiece, Mathisen retired the side in order five times, including seven in a row to start the game.
With the game at a scoreless tie in the top of the third inning, the Hustlers got things going with a leadoff single by Austin Wilson.
One out later, Justin Sugg singled to put two runners on base.
Mathisen then came to the plate with two outs and Wilson and Sugg in scoring position.
On the first pitch he saw, Mathisen slugged a two-run single to give the Hustlers a 2-0 advantage.
In the fifth frame, Mathisen drove in Jacob Quintanilla with an RBI groundout to cap the scoring. From the bottom of the fifth inning on, Mathisen allowed one Medford runner to advance as far as second base,
“He was surgical on the mound, making the Mustangs hit what he wanted them to hit and where he wanted them to hit it,” Runyon said. “The Mustangs were a good team and could swing it, but the combination of Mathisen’s pitching performance and our defensive effort behind him made this opening day victory possible.”
Runyon added that it was a great feeling in the locker room after blowing past the host team at state.
“We knew going in that if we played well that we could beat them, and the players and coaches never stopped believing that,” Runyon added.
Coming off that win, the Hustlers went to work against the West Salem/Dallas Dirtbags.
Everything came together for the Hustlers, as Dakota Walker and Beaux Watt allowed seven hits and struck out five, but the Hustlers left seven on base and the Dirtbags scored the eventual game-winning run in the seventh to pull out the victory.
“It was a well fought game, with both teams making some key plays that could have potentially busted things open offensively for either team,” Runyon said. “There were multiple times that we left runners on in scoring position and could not get that key hit to break it open.”
One of those times was in the first inning, where Watt was up to bat with the bases-loaded and two outs.
He hit a hot shot up the middle, but the Dirtbag second baseman made a diving catch to snag the ball out of the air, but dropped the ball and flipped it to the shortstop for the force out to end the threat.
“Sometimes in baseball you can do everything right, but not end up on the winning side and that is exactly what happened in this second game,” Runyon said.
The loss put the Hustlers in the loser’s bracket, but since it was double elimination, there was hope a few wins could vault them into the finals.
Earlier this season, the Hustlers swept the Northwest Stars in two games, but this time around, Runyon said they were relentless.
In the early parts of the game, the Hustlers were right with the Knights, then a series of errors plagued CG to the point where the Knights surged ahead by a 12-5 score through six innings.
“The rest of the game our pitchers and defense were once again solid and only allowed one more run, but we could only muster up one run ourselves,” Runyon said of the 13-6 loss. “We left the bases loaded several times and could not get that key hit that we were needing, just like the night before.”
In all, the Hustlers slammed out 15 hits and five walks, but stranded 19 runners, including the bases loaded three times.
Watt and Wilson had three hits each, and Steven Bartells went 2 for 4 with two runs and an RBI.
Quintanilla went 2 for 5 with a run, and Nick Weekly tacked on a 2 for 5 split with three RBIs. If not for some bounces here and there, things could have changed dramatically for the Hustlers, who had the offense and pitching to defeat anyone in their path.
Runyon praised his group for leaving everything on the field.
He said that although the result was not a win in the final game, they walked away feeling proud of the way they played.
“They represented what Hustlers Baseball is all about. It would have been easy for them to just give up or give in to themselves in this last game where things kind of snow balled, but they refused to lose,” the coach added. “They exhibited the professional attitude that we had been stressing all summer long. They each had a job to do and they accepted those jobs and did everything they could to help the team.”
Out of 12 players on the roster, eight will get the chance to make a run at it again next year.
Unfortunately for the Hustlers, Sugg, Watt, Lucas Denney and Quintanilla played their final games from July 31-Aug. 4. It is through their efforts that the Hustlers were able to enjoy a handful of wins over the years.
“All of these players were a key to our success this season and they will be tough to replace,” Runyon said. “For the rest of the players coming back, this state tournament and this season was a great learning experience for them and they know that they can compete with anyone in the state.”
For more information on the Hustler program, call 541-965-0015.