For head coach Steve Sugg, last season’s goal was for the young Hustlers to enjoy success while playing against ‘A’ competition.
In 46 American Legion games, the Hustlers racked up a 29-17 overall record, won a Zone 2 championship and added a 1-2 finish at the American Legion State Tournament in North Bend last August.
With a team that is little more experienced in the legion game, Sugg is putting this group through the fire versus some ‘AAA’ teams and some college players to prepare them for heightened competition.
So far, the Hustlers are 2-7, with two of their losses coming by one run (West Lin 5-4) and White Salmon (3-2).
“We have had some struggles early on, but we are just trying to figure what roles these kids will play to help us have success,” Hustler head coach Steve Sugg said. “This is why you play 50 games in the summer. You get extra reps at different positions and you stay in the zone offensively, so you can be a better player.”
Covering the two-month 2018 season, the Hustlers lost more than two games in a row once, and had a three-game skid from June 30 to July 1, which moved their record to 11-8 at the time.
After that stretch, however, they 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.
In those games, the Hustlers put themselves in position to secure their league crown in the opener, with the pitching of Jordan Wetmore and an eight-run fourth frame to lock down a 10-0 mercy-ruled win.
The second game featured a little more late-inning drama, as they were down by a 7-2 score in the bottom of the seventh inning, but battled back with a dramatic comeback to clinch a league title, as Baily Hajicek smacked a three-run triple to tie the score at 7-7, and after a walk to Michael Armstrong, Josh Johnson executed a perfect RBI squeeze bunt, which plated Hajicek for the winning run in CG’s 8-7 win and two-game sweep over Hillsboro.
The team went 2-5 to end the season, 1-3 at the Newport Tournament and 1-2 at state.
“We had a good season and we showed ourselves what we are capable of,” said reliever and infielder Trenton Schacher. “We will have better competition this year, so it will be tougher for us. I think we will win a lot of games.”
Armstrong, Greene, Ben Nelson, Schacher, Ben Schanno, Seufalemua, and Dominic Smith are TD athletes back in the fold, and the newcomers are Isaac Anthony (Dufur), Gabe Petroff (Dufur), Brock Lafaver (Maupin), Wade Fields (Sherman), Andrew Carlock (Lyle, Wash.) and Jaxon Pullen (The Dalles).
“This is one of the most talented teams I have ever been on,” Smith said. “We have a lot of guys that can hit for power, hit it in the gaps and bunt. We want to play aggressive baseball and try to put other teams on their heels.”
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, and Nelson added a .343 average from his leadoff spot with 58 runs, 20 stolen bases and 26 RBIs.
Smith had a .33 average with 31 runs and 36 RBIs, Greene hit .375 with 11 RBIs, and Armstrong had two home runs and 21 walks.
The Hustler pitching staff allowed 247 runs, 150 earned, and they held opponents to two runs or fewer 15 times with seven shutouts.
While last season’s numbers are more of an outlier based on playing ‘A’ games, it is a good gauge of the overall talent on the roster, from to to bottom.
And with Carlock, Fields, Anthony and Lafaver, the Hustlers have four big arms for coach Sugg to put on the mound. Petroff is penciled in as the primary catcher.
With five players from surrounding areas, establishing an important team bond is on the front burner.
“To help us win, it is going to take a lot of communication, a lot of hard work and for all of us to be positive with each other,” Schacher said. “We have to bring up our teammates when they are down and be encouraging. We are all here because we want to win and get better as players, so building our chemistry is very important.”
The Hustlers are no longer the biggest kept secret in the legion ranks, so even though they are jumping up a level, they are using every practice and game to make their improvements.
“We will have a lot more pressure on us because of what we did last year, so we are going to have to accomplish more than we did last year,” Greene said. “Our league is going to be tough, so that means we are playing better competition. We will need to come out strong against these good teams. I am excited for it.”
The Hustlers were in Hood River this weekend for a three-day tournament starting Friday and ending Sunday.
At 5:30 p.m. Monday, Columbia Gorge hosts Westview in a single game.
La Salle comes to town for a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Tuesday, and then CG welcomes Bend in a twinbill slated for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 3.