'Magic' helps Wilson win state
Inspired rallies turn unsung Trojans into Class 5A champs
This is not a story that was supposed to be told. This is not a story about a team that was too good to lose. It might not even be a story about the best team in Class 5A baseball.
This is a story about the 2012 Wilson High baseball team. A story about the indomitable will of ballplayers who would not be defeated. A story about the magic that carried the Trojans to a 7-6 win over Summit in Saturday afternoon's state championship game.
"There was some magic," Wilson coach Mike Clopton says, of his second state title team. "Part of it could just be that it was meant to be -- it was in the cards for whatever reason. Either that, or the Lord is working in mysterious ways."
In the Oregon School Activities Association 5A final, the Trojans were down to their final three outs, trailing 6-3 against Kevin Hamann, the best 5A pitcher in the state, who came into the game with a 16-0 record.
Wilson had been clinging to its final breath of life throughout the previous two rounds of the playoffs, though. The Trojans trailed Pendleton 7-1 in the quarterfinals before coming back to win 9-7 on the road. In the semifinals, Wilson trailed Bend 2-1 in the seventh inning before scoring the tying run and eventually winning 3-2 in 10 innings.
One reason for the comeback victories was that Wilson has had four sessions with sports psychologist Brian Baxter this season. The Trojans learned how to focus on their breathing, how to create routines and how to control what could be controlled.
Another reason was that the Trojans lived by a motto passed down to them from major leaguer and ex-Trojans pitching coach Wayne Twitchell, who died in the fall of 2010 after a battle with cancer.
"Wayne always said 'there's no time limit in baseball,' " Clopton says. "The good thing about what Wayne used to do with stories is some of that stuff transcends. The kids knew that they had a chance until the last out was made."
With the bottom of their order coming up, Wilson rallied with four base hits -- in order -- by Austin Andrews (leadoff single), Philip Blatt (one-out RBI single after a wild pitch moved Andrews to second), Brendan Freeman (double) and John Venables (tying, two-run double).
After Summit intentionally walked No. 8 hitter Jonah Harris to set up a double-play, the Storm got Tyler Seeley to ground to second. Summit threw out Harris at second base, but Summit shortstop Nick Sweet's poor throw to first allowed pinch-runner Kevin Shimomaeda to score from second with the game winning run.
"(Junior pitcher/outfielder Gerhett) Moser said on TV that we don't have a weak spot in our lineup, which is not true," Clopton says. "But we had kids who don't give up."
No one could have predicted that Wilson would be celebrating its first state championship since 2006 this season. Not even Clopton.
With only one senior starter returning, Wilson had less talent than in the last six seasons. And the team lost three starters to injury, forcing others to fill the roles that were left vacant.
"It gave people an opportunity they may not have had," Clopton says, "and it gave the other guys an opportunity to try to help them to improve and get up to the level where they could help the team."
Wilson usually takes a road trip early in the season. Not doing that this year, the parents asked Clopton if they could do a series of bonding activities after games and practices. So, during spring break, the team went to players' houses three days and a video arcade on the fourth day.
The players grew close.
"The difference between this team and any other team I've been on is I really had faith in every single person," Moser says. "I've never had that feeling before, with any other sport I've played."
Wilson, which finished the season 23-8 and won the PIL 5A championship, seemed to have an air of magic around them.
"Magic, or they had a belief, which is a hokey thing," Clopton says. "But ..."
But, how else to explain three come-from-behind playoff victories, inspired by the words of Twitchell who gave his heart and soul to the Wilson program for so many years?
"I think about Wayne often," Clopton says.
How else to explain Moser, whose heroics included a rally-igniting grand slam in the Pendleton game, the game-winning hit against Bend and pitching on short rest in the state championship game, believing that he could feel his late grandfather Bill Schantz standing beside him throughout the postseason?
"Just having the memory of him and knowing that he was there watching from a different place really helped," says Moser, who drew the letters "GB" for Grandpa Bill behind the mound before each of the 4 1/3 innings that he pitched during the state title game.
With almost every starter returning next season, including Moser and junior pitcher Blatt -- who picked up a relief win in the Summit game -- Wilson will be the team to beat next season.
"Winston Churchill said something about 'with success comes responsibility,' " Clopton says. "That's part of what we're dealing with. With the number of starters we have coming back, the players feel that they have a chance to have a good season. But you just can't show up. You have to play between the lines."