• Charged-up pitching, defense puts Grant in contention for a PIL title
If pitching and defense are the cornerstones of a championship team, the Grant Generals might be chasing not only a city baseball title but a state title, too.
The Generals can go six deep into their pitching staff and are averaging just one error per game Ñ two big reasons why they are leading the PIL and are ranked in the state's top 10.
'We can always start hitting better,' sophomore shortstop Paul Raglione says. 'But as long as we can throw strikes and get people out, we can win games.
'If it comes down to it, we just need to score one run, and we can do that.'
Grant, second to Franklin last season, is a perennial Portland Interscholastic League contender. But the Generals haven't won the city title in 12 years.
They last won the state title in 1958.
'Our goal is to win the city title and then play deep into the playoffs,' says senior pitcher John Fisher. 'We've got good pitching, and our defense is solid. We have the team to contend.'
In addition to Fisher, Grant's pitching staff includes Raglione and seniors Andrew Anderson, Gabe Chase, Glen Hoover and Matt Hibbitts. All are right-handers.
The Generals are so stacked at pitcher, coach Rob Kennewell says, they haven't had to use Raglione on the mound.
'I haven't been able to get to him yet,' Kennewell says. 'He's got a good arm, too. We have a bunch of guys who all can start just about any game.'
Grant's staff is so deep that Fisher and Hibbitts, who were all-league pitchers last season, have been moved down in the rotation, Fisher to the second or third spot and Hibbitts to a relief role.
Hoover, who went from the junior varsity to the all-league team as an honorable mention pick last season, is a reliever and spot starter.
The Generals, who have a combined 2.71 ERA, have won 10 of their first 11 games and moved up to No. 8 in the state rankings. Grant has outscored its opponents 93-39.
Raglione has committed just one error at short.
'We're doing well, but we can do better,' Chase says. 'I think we're still just getting warmed up, especially with our hitting. We can hit a lot better.'
Anderson has moved up to the role of team ace this season and has pitched well. He struck out a career-best 11 batters in a 9-3 win over Marshall on Monday. Anderson can get close to 90 mph on his fastball, but his real strength is control.
'I try to strike out the top of the order, then paint the corners on the 3-4-5 hitters,' Anderson says. 'I don't try to strike out everyone. We all have that kind of control, too. We can throw strikes when we need to.'
Fisher and Hibbitts have solid fastballs, while Chase, Hoover and Raglione are known more for their offspeed pitches. Together, they offer a wide variety of pitches for opposing teams to flail away at.
'We have 12 seniors, so we're used to each other, and we're doing things as a team,' says Hibbitts, an all-league safety in football. 'We've been to Arizona together, and we're comfortable with the horseplay that goes on as a team. We're having fun as a team.'
Being in a pennant race last season with Franklin, which was a senior-dominated team, helped the Generals get ready for this run at the city title. It taught them about focus.
'You have to be focused through a whole game,' Anderson says. 'You just can't play five innings and expect that will be good enough to beat most teams, especially the ones that are at the bottom of the league.
'You've got to be able to focus for all seven innings if you want to be the state champions.'
The Generals have won most of their games by more than three runs and lost only to Hillsboro, 5-4, during their swing through Arizona in March. They passed a key PIL test last Friday against Wilson, giving up five runs in the fourth inning to fall into a 7-7 tie, then scoring two runs in the fifth. Fisher went three innings of scoreless relief to secure a 9-7 victory.
'We like playing big games like that,' Hibbitts says. 'We got to experience that last season against Franklin and then in the state playoffs. We want more of that.'
Raglione says the team's success definitely has his full attention, even though he has two years of eligibility remaining.
'I don't know how good we're going to be in the next two years, but I know we have a lot of seniors now and we're a good team this year,' he says. 'This is the year we have a chance. Everyone is feeling that.'