Garrett Russell walked slowly to center field, plucked a bit of grass and looked at the blue wall that had his back all summer.
It was a moment he needed to take, a moment many of Dr. Stewart’s players took in one way or another Sunday evening after the Hillsboro Barbers held off the Docs for a 4-3 victory in an elimination game in the American Legion baseball AAA state tournament at Bill Gray Stadium at Legion Field.
Dr. Stewart’s, the host team for the tournament, was eliminated from the field. It was the third straight one-run loss for the Docs and their second 4-3 loss in the tournament. They ended the regular season with a 1-0 loss to Medford.
“The last time,” Russell said. “This field won’t be here anymore, for me at least. It’s a tough one. We competed hard, we just didn’t get the hits we needed, but damn, I’m proud of us.”
The Docs (22-22) fell behind early on Sunday and couldn’t quite catch all the way up against the Barbers. It was a bitter role reversal from Saturday night, when they led into the bottom of the seventh against Corvallis, only to have the Marketmen rally for three runs and a 4-3 victory.
Hillsboro (29-11) advanced to face the Mid-Valley SouthPaws in an elimination game Monday.
“I thought we were going to playing at this time (Sunday), and one of us would be 2-0 after,” Hillsboro coach Joseph Duran said of his pre-tournament expectations. “I knew it was going to be tough. They’re a tough squad, just like you’d expect of a Scott Shaver-coached team. They’ll fight you to the last out, just like us.”
The Docs trailed 4-0 after four and a half innings, but rallied for three runs in the bottom of fifth — all of Hillsboro starter Blake Crippen, who lasted 4 2/3 innings before being relieved by Michael Bennett, who struck out four in 2 1/3 to earn the save.
Bennett did not allow an hit to close out the contest.
Jett Black got Dr. Stewart’s rally started with a crucial one-out walk on a 3-2 count. Leadoff hitter Doran Gillespie doubled to left center, and Russell dropped a well-placed sacrifice bunt to score Jett Black. Jonathan Stone, Brody Black and Luke Lucido all followed with two-out singles to score Gillespie and Stone.
A called third strike against Cody Johnson ended the inning, and the Docs went in order in the sixth. In the seventh, the Docs had the top of their lineup due up.
Gillespie flew out to center, Russell went down swinging and Stone was called out on a called third strike to end the game.
“I was very concerned,” Duran said of entering the bottom of the seventh. “Nine years at the state tournament, I’m on high alert (in that situation). We’re guarding the lines, protecting for a double, and you’re thinking ‘are they taking a strike?’ We have to get ahead as a pitcher.”
The Barbers made it work with Bennett closing the game.
Dr. Stewart’s outhit the Barbers, 8-6, but didn’t get the critical big hit when it needed one.
“We’d get a leadoff guy on every once in a while, but we couldn’t get him around,” designated hitter Brody Black said. Brody Black went 3-for-3, all singles, before he was lifted for a pinch-runner in the bottom of the fifth.
“They were keeping us off-balance and we couldn’t barrel balls up like we usually do. That’s all we can really say about it.
“We were excited to be here and we all wanted to hit. Baseball does mean things to you sometimes.”
“It’s alway hard to pull a kid that’s 3-for-3, but we needed the speed, especially with him being the tying run,” Docs coach Scott Shaver said. “It was the same thing with Z. We had to leave Meisner in there because we might need him coming back there to pitch at the end. They both needed a little extra love and I gave it to them.”
Docs starter Zack Mandera took the loss, while reliever Payton Hope kept the Docs in the game with 3 2/3 innings of relief.
Usually a steady force on the mound, Mandera struggled with the zone at times, giving up five walks — three in the fourth inning to load the bases.
“He lost the feel of the zone and he’s had that happen before and he’s been able to figure it out,” Shaver said, “but in the state tournament, you can’t let a guy go too long in that situation. Payton came in and did a great job. He gave us a chance to get back in it. Hats off to the Barbers as well. They brought in a kid with good mph and hook, and he did what closers do, he closed us out.
“You have to tip your hat to Portland and I appreciate my boys for their effort.”
Most of the Docs are exactly that. Russell and catcher Kyler Leischner are the only players who will age-out before next season; the other 16 players on the 18-player roster can return for 2019, and some for 2020 and 2021.
“This is a great group of guys and they’re going to come back next year and they’re going to be competitors and I can’t wait to watch that,” Russell said.
Portland led from the first inning, taking a 2-0 lead on a one-out walk, an error, an RBI double by Ian Lawson, and a wild pitch.
“We got the timely hits when we needed them,” Duran said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Hillsboro 200 110 0 — 4 6 0
Docs 000 030 0 — 3 8 2
Crippen, Bennett (5) and McNeil; Mandera, Hope (4) and Leischner. WP — Crippen. LP — Mandera. Sv — Bennett. 2B — Gordon (H), Lawson (H), Gillespie (DS).
Hitting — Hill. 6-25 (Thompson 1-4, Ramsay 0-2, Cooney 2-4, Lawson 1-4, Muskat 1-2, McNeil 0-2, Herzog 0-2, Gordon 1-2, Garcia 0-2, Bafaro 0-1), D.S. 8-27 (Gillespie 1-4, Russell 1-3, Stone 1-4, B. Black 3-3, Holland 0-0, Lucido 1-3, Co. Johnson 0-2, Leischner 0-3, Meisner 1-3, J. Black 0-2). RBIs — Hill. 2 (Lawson, Muskat), D.S. 3 (Russell, Stone, Lucido).