But Aloha gives EC all it wants in Darren Bland's swan song as head coach
by: DAVID BALL, HE’S OUT — Aloha first baseman Dylan Jones stretches for a throw during his team’s playoff series against the East County Knights over the weekend.

ALOHA - The Aloha Knights knew they had a tough first-round playoff match coming in the AAA American Legion playoffs against the East County Knights and they were right.

East County had to work overtime Sunday, but did so successfully, beating Aloha 5-4 in 12 sweltering innings at Aloha High School to complete a sweep of their best two-of-three Metro-Area playoff series. Aloha ended its summer season with a 34-15 overall record and also bid goodbye to head coach Darren Bland, who has accepted the head baseball coaching position and a teaching job at McMinnville after three solid years (and two state playoff berths) at Aloha.

'It just really came down to our not being able to win our two-of-three series with Glencoe,' said Bland, referring to the series that sent his team off to face Area 5-champion East County in its first-round playoff. 'Then we come up against the No. 1 team, not just from their league, but probably from the whole Portland area.'

East County carried a shutout into Sunday's ninth inning only to see host Aloha force extra innings with a three-run rally. East County reliever Greg Bobnick gave up a bases-loaded walk, and Aloha tied the game on the next pitch when Travis Holz sent a two-run single into shallow center field. Bobnick recovered, however, to strike out the next batter and strand the winning run at third base.

East County regained the lead with two outs in the 12th inning by stringing together four straight singles.

In the decisive 12th, Will DeBiccari put East County in front with a line drive that bounced off the pitcher's shin, giving Joe McKee plenty of time to race home safely. Austan Mason then added a valuable insurance run by slapping an RBI grounder through the left side for a 5-3 lead.

Aloha threatened to extend play when Matt Morrison drew another bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 12th to cut the gap to 5-4, but Bobnick struck out the next batter to end the game with the bases loaded.

After falling behind early, Aloha almost tied the game in the fourth inning when Joe Dimeo hit a stand-up triple that rolled to the right-field fence. But Mason struck out back-to-back batters to end the threat. He finished with 12 strikeouts in eight shutout innings.

East County took a 3-0 lead in the ninth when Bobnick led off with a double to the center field fence and scored three batters later on a single by Mat Schwerbel.

Aloha stayed within striking distance late in the game when left fielder Tyler Bolin raced toward the fence and made a catch on the run at the warning track to end the eighth inning. Dylan Jones pitched seven strong innings to open the game and left with a 2-0 deficit; Jordan Nielsen pitched the final five innings, allowing one run in the eighth and two more in the 12th.

Aloha, which has faced East County in the American Legion playoffs in two of Bland's three seasons as head coach, knew that it could play with the 'other' Knights, a team composed of graduates from both Gresham and Sandy high schools.

'Both times we had to play them, we had to win two games on a Thursday and then start our series on Saturday,' Bland said. 'The first time we played them, we got 10-runned both games and didn't score a run. This year, we probably had them thinking 'Why the heck do we have to play Aloha in the first round?''

East County 6, Aloha 1

East County won the series opener 6-1 on Saturday night, led by pitcher Ryan Morales' 15 strikeouts in eight innings of work. East County took an early 2-0 lead on a pair of Aloha errors and never looked back. Peter D'Aboy and Mark Hunter hit ground-rule doubles for the Knights.

Sean O'Connor stepped up to pitch eight solid innings for Aloha and trailed just 2-1 through four innings before East County broke the game open.

Miles Vance and David Ball contributed to this report.

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