Photo by Ray Rodriguez
The Columbia Gorge Hustlers baseball team finished the season with a 9-8 loss to Dr. Randols, out of Roseburg, in an state-playoff elimination contest played on July 27 at Clyde Allen Field in North Bend. On the year, the Hustlers posted a 29-17 record and staked claim to a Zone 2 League championship. Next season, the team, which loses two players, will move up to the ‘AAA’ classification. In the photo are, from left to right, starting in the back row, Jose Gonzalez, Colton Baughn, Michael Armstrong, Austin Greene, Mac Abbas, Trenton Schacher, Josh Johnson and Dalles Seufalemua. In the front row are, from left, Dominic Smith, Ben Schanno, Ben Nelson, Diego Gonzalez (bat boy), Baily Hajicek, Jordan Wetmore and Conner Baughn.
Columbia Gorge Hustlers head coach Steve Sugg put his ‘A’ baseball team through a meat grinder of a schedule, with games in Washington, on the coast and everywhere else.
His goal was to throw the young bunch into the fire versus some ‘AAA’ teams and some college players to prepare them for heated competition.
This summer, the Hustlers racked up a 29-17 overall record, a Zone 2 championship and a 1-2 finish at the recently-completed American Legion State Tournament in North Bend.
“There were times we had 11 games in a week. That’s fine though. You will only get better with more repetitions and game time,” Sugg said. “We wanted to see if they could handle a tough summer schedule. We almost won 30 games, so that shows me they could accomplish great things as a team. I am proud of every player who stuck with it. Summer ball is not easy and pretty much every single player finished the season. I loved seeing that.”
On July 27 at Clyde Allen Field in North Bend, Dr. Randols, out of Roseburg, used a one-out walk, followed by a single to left field and an error on the play, to score the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning, defeating the Hustlers by a 9-8 score in an elimination matchup.
The Hustlers totaled seven hits, but could not get the big hit when it mattered, as they stranded eight runners for the game, including the bases loaded in the top of the sixth after rallying for three runs in the frame to tie the score at 8-8.
“You hate to see your season end on an error, but that’s the game of baseball. You make your breaks and we didn’t field the ball well or get any clutch hits, which pretty much kept Roseburg in the game,” Sugg said. “You cannot leave these good teams hanging around. If you have a chance to put them away, you have to take advantage of your opportunities with guys on base.”
Baily Hajicek finished 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, a run scored and two RBIs, and Ben Nelson added two hits, one double, in five at-bats, with two stolen bases and two runs scored.
Dalles Seufalemua was 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, two runs scored and an RBI, Michael Armstrong had a hit, a walk and a run scored and Conner Baughn went hitless, but was hit by a pitch, walked and drove in two runs.
During the two-month season, the Hustlers lost more than two games in a row once with a three-game skid from June 30 to July 1, which moved their record to 11-8 at the time.
After that stretch, however, the Hustlers went on a 10-1 streak, including six in a row.
After back-to-back tournament losses to Seaside and Hood River, Columbia Gorge added another four-game winning streak to their standings, and then swept a league doubleheader at home versus Hillsboro on July 18.
The team went 2-5 to end the season, 1-3 at the Newport Tournament and 1-2 at state.
“I had a fun summer. I am happy with how much I grew as a player,” Conner Baughn said. “Coach always tells us how important playing summer ball is and it showed with a lot of these guys. I was so impressed by what I saw. I think they will only get better.”
In 46 contests, the Hustlers scored 358 runs for 7.8 a clip, as they were shut out just twice all summer.
Seufalemua posted a team-best .464 average with four home runs, eight triples, 47 runs and 56 RBIs.
Hajicek posted a .425 average with 20 stolen bases, 35 runs and 22 RBIs, Nelson added a .343 average from his leadoff spot with 58 runs, 20 stolen bases and 26 RBIs, and Jose Gonzalez smacked two homers, scored 41 runs, drove in 34 and hit .431 in his 41 games.
Austin Greene hit .375 with 11 RBIs, Armstrong had two home runs and 21 walks, Colton Baughn walked 15 times, scored 22 runs and totaled 10 RBIs, and Dominic Smith had a .33 average with 31 runs and 36 RBIs.
“I knew coming into the season we would have a pretty good offense,” Hustler player Josh Johnson said. “We had guys who could hit for power, bunt and hit it anywhere. When you have an offense like we had at times, you kind of felt like you were never out of a game. We had some good hitting games this year, but we need to get better when we have guys on base. Once we can get clutch hits, we can be unstoppable.”
Defensively, the Hustlers were up and down with games where errors came in bunches, which led to unearned runs and big innings.
The Hustler pitching staff allowed 247 runs, 150 earned, and they held opponents to two runs or fewer 15 times, with seven shutouts.
Jordan Wetmore went 6-2 as he allowed 32 runs, 20 earned, on 28 hits, with 80 strikeouts and 25 walks for a 3.11 earned run average in 45 innings pitched.
Smith had two wins and a team-high three saves, and Nelson put up a 5-1 record with 31 strikeouts and a 3.92 earned run average across 39 1/3 innings.
A caveat to the final statistics and state finish was that coach Sugg had to mix and match the mound time.
Wetmore left for basic training after his shutout win against Hillsboro on July 18, Zach Anderson pitched only one game, and Western Oregon University lefty Kolbe Bales did not dress down for one inning this summer.
“I really believe if we would have had those guys at state, we probably win the thing. That’s how confident I am in their ability,” Sugg said. “I still feel like a lot of our young guys showed me a lot on the mound. They pitched in the big moments and pitched out of jams and faced some tough hitters, so I think if we can keep developing our arms, we will be fine there by next spring.”
Sugg, The Dalles High School’s varsity football coach, and the rest of his players will focus on football and basketball over the next seven months, before concentrating on the spring baseball campaign.
Hajicek looks forward to finishing his senior year with a postseason flurry.
“I am really happy with the way things went and how we are going to do next year,” Hajicek said. “We have one of the best coaches around. (Steve) Sugg is an amazing coach and it is amazing to be able to play with him. These kids are great. We just need to learn that when we get ahead, we need to keep that intensity to stay ahead and not give up. Having that ability will lead us very far.”