There was dancing in the streets of Keizer

Pioneers make school history, winning their school's first state title in baseball

Dream big, work hard toward your goals, believe in yourself and your teammates, and almost any goal is achievable.

Those are life lessons Oregon City baseball players took with them from Keizer's Volcanoes Stadium Saturday night, after defeating Thurston in the championship final of the Oregon Class 6A high school baseball playoffs.

After a 3-22 season in 2011, few expected much of the Pioneers in 2012.

But Greg Lord, a 42-year veteran of coaching young men in baseball, took over Oregon City's program last fall, assembled a top-notch coaching staff, worked his players hard, and got them believing in themselves, in their coaches and in one another.

The Pioneers improved as the 2012 season progressed. And by season's end, there was no question that Oregon City was as good as any team in the state.

After tying Clackamas for second place in the Three Rivers League, the Pioneers entered postseason play with a very mediocre 14-11 record.

They gained confidence with a 4-2 win over fourth-ranked Jesuit in a postseason practice game with the Crusaders.

They followed that up with playoff wins over 12th-ranked Central Catholic (5-3), 34th-ranked McNary (4-0), No. 4 Jesuit (6-5 in nine innings) and top-ranked Roseburg (2-1). And they out-worked second-ranked Thurston in Saturday night's championship final, winning 7-5.

It's the first time in the 127-year history of Oregon City High School that a baseball team has won a state championship, and only the second time in the history of the school that a boys team has won a championship in an Oregon School Activities Association-sanctioned boys team sport. Oregon City's boys cross country team won a state championship in 1996.

Only two other Oregon City baseball teams have ever played in a state final. The Pioneers lost to Grant 5-3 in the state final in 1951, and to Mazama 2-1 in the state final in 1996.

'It's the greatest feeling in the world,' said Oregon City senior Jon Reece. 'We put in so much time. It feels great to come out and win a state championship with all of the effort we put in....'

'It feels great!' said Oregon City junior Rilyn Lewchuk. 'It's the first title for our school, and I got the opportunity to be a part of it, so it means a lot.'

'I'm so happy and so proud of the guys,' said senior Marc Morris. 'It means twice as much, because we were underdogs. We were ranked 22nd [in the state] and no one thought we could do it. It feels so good to prove them wrong. Oregon City's a lunch-box group, and we get after it.'

'It didn't just happen,' said Lord. 'It took a lot of planning and preparation. And a lot of hard work. We're a lunch-box community. We punch in in the morning and punch out again at the end of the day. Sometimes we practiced two times a day. And the kids believed....'

'This is something we'll cherish for the rest of our lives,' said Oregon City senior Louis Wolf. 'We're leaving a legacy for our school. It's my senior year, and it's a great way to finish it.'

'[The difference from last year was] the coaching, and getting everyone to believe,' Jon Reece said. 'Relentlessly pursuing a championship. Everyone believed. It was not caring who gets credit. Everyone had a role, and everyone contributed....'

'It was having our card,' said Lewchuk. 'Us believing as a team in our mission statement. Relentlessly pursing a championship, and helping each other like brothers.'

Throughout their playoff run, fans in attendance at the Pioneers' games observed Oregon City players repeatedly checking their wristbands. The players weren't checking out a scouting report on their opponent. They were looking at a card inscribed with their mission statement.

On one side, the card read, 'Relentlessly pursuing a championship.' On the other side were four short sentences: 'I believe in myself; I believe in my teammates; I believe that something good is going to happen; I believe that through hard work I will achieve success.'

The Pioneers 'believed' and they battled from start to finish in Saturday's final, as they did throughout the state playoffs.

The Thurston Colts came out swinging their bats, and two of their first three batters got base hits. Oregon City catcher Jon Reece picked off one of the baserunners at first, and he gunned down the other stealing third. And the Pioneers got out of the first inning without giving up a run.

Oregon City got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first, scoring two runs on a base hit by sophomore Clay Reece (2-for-4), walks by Wolf and junior Jake Phillips, and a two-run, two-out single to left by sophomore Jacob Tipton (2-for-3, 4 RBI).

The Colts got a run back in the second, scoring when senior Stefan Drake followed up a lead-off base hit by Kyle Watson, with a run-scoring double to right-center.

Drake tried to stretch the double to a triple, and was thrown out on a relay from right fielder Dillon Riley to Tipton, to Clay Reece at third.

The Colts went up 3-2 in the top of the third, scoring two runs on three hits, a hit batter and a walk. The damage might have been worse, except that Lewchuk retired the side with a bases loaded strikeout.

Oregon City evened the score at 3-3 with a single run in the fourth. Wolf got things started when he beat Thurston's pitcher to the first-base bag for an infield single on a ground ball flagged down by Colt first baseman Aaron Hoover. Wolf advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Phillips and on a groundout by Tipton, and he scored on a two-out double to left by junior Josh Scott.

The Pioneers put the Colts away in the bottom of the fifth, when they chased Thurston starting pitcher Kyle Watson from the mound with a 4-run rally. Tipton had the key hit in the big inning, a 2-run triple.

Jon Reece got things started in the fifth with a one-out walk. Clay Reece and Morris followed with back-to-back singles to bring Jon Reece around.

With two down in the fifth, Phillips ripped a run-scoring single to left. Tipton followed with his two-run triple to the gap in right-center, and the Pioneers were in command, leading 7-3.

Things began to unravel a little in the top of the sixth, when the Colts got two runs back, scoring on an error and a wild pitch, after the Colts got baserunners through a hit batsman and a double.

But junior Dillon Riley flagged down a fly ball in right field, and Swalwell hauled in a fly ball in center to get out of the inning.

And Lewchuk made it 3-up and 3-down in the seventh, retiring the side on six pitches, through two flyouts to Scott in left, and a groundout to himself on the hill.

Lewchuk pitched a complete game for Oregon City, striking out three, walking one and allowing eight hits.

The Pioneers reached Watson and Thurston reliever Shane Quarterley for eight hits and five walks, while striking out four times.

Thurston finished the season with an overall record of 26-5; Oregon City finished up at 20-11.

Lord says that he knew on the bus-ride home from his Pioneers' May 29 upset of top-ranked Roseburg in the semifinals that his Cinderella ball club had a good chance of pulling off another upset and winning their school's first state title in baseball.

'We were on our way home and the kids wanted us to stop so they could get a look at Volcanoes Stadium [where the state final was scheduled to be played]....,' Lord said. 'When we got there, the gates were locked, and there wasn't much to see. I told the kids, 'Gentlemen, the gates are locked now, but they'll be open on Saturday. There's going to be a party here on Saturday, and you're invited. The only question will be, are you going to be willing to dance?'

'The kids then went crazy. They were dancing in the street outside the stadium parking lot in full view of the freeway. People driving by on I-5 must have thought that there were some lunatics that had gotten loose.

'That incident put things in perspective. I knew at that point that we'd make a game of it [in the state final].'

'People say coaches can't win ball games,' said Morris. 'Maybe they can't, but our coaches made a heck of a contribution. They rode us hard at practices. At the time, we didn't like it very much. But looking back, I appreciate what they did. I think they're great coaches, and I love them a lot.'

'Our coaches were just as committed as we were,' said Tipton. 'They worked just as hard as we did. They wanted us to achieve....'

'It's not the final result [that's important to me],' said Lord. 'It's the journey. I've been blessed with great mentors, great coaches and great kids. It's been a heck of a ride, and I couldn't be prouder.'

The Pioneers won't be underdogs next year. They'll return their top pitchers, and seven of 10 players who were in their starting lineup in Saturday's final.

Championship game starters included: seniors Jon Reece (catcher), Marc Morris (first base) and Louis Wolf (designated hitter); juniors Rilyn Lewchuk (pitcher), Jake Phillips (second base), Josh Scott (outfield), Dillon Riley (outfield) and Cary Swalwell (outfield); and sophomores Clay Reece (third base) and Jacob Tipton (shortstop).

Other players on the roster included: seniors Luke Morris (infield, pitcher), Josh Benedict (infield/pitcher) and Shawn Hepler (outfield); juniors Tyler Moon (pitcher), Josh Hill (pitcher) and Dustin La Grange (infield/pitcher); sophomores Chase Park (pitcher), Terrel Hood (outfield/pitcher) and Nick Martin (outfield); and freshman Zach Sprague (catcher).

Mike Lord, Tom Gorman, Justin Bugni, Andy Chapin and Garrett Gibson assisted in coaching the team. Robert Charlan was manager.

'We'll continue to work hard, the same way we worked hard this year, and we'll be back here next year,' said Lewchuk said.

'With the pitching staff coming back, their defense and hitting, I could see them making it back here next year,' said Wolf. 'We've set the tone, and I believe Oregon City is going to be good for years to come.'

'They'll get back here next year and they'll get a second title,' said Marc Morris. 'And I'll be in the stands watching them do it.'

Greg Lord made an appeal to the community: 'I don't want this to be a one-and-done deal. We're sorely in need of an indoor hitting facility that can be used by youth and high school players the year around. I'm hoping the community can get behind us and help us build one....'