One run loss to Baker in road play-in game kept Crook County from advancing into playoffs

by: LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Brandon Alexander delivers a pitch in a game against The Dalles Wahtonka earlier this year. Alexander is one of five Cowboys with varsity experience that will return next year. Other returners with varsity experience are Troy Benton, Sam Walker, Joe Saenz, and Stetson Hall.

In his two seasons as head baseball coach, Terry Larimer directed the Crook County Cowboys to identical 10-win seasons.
   However, this year’s Cowboys were a much better team than the squad that won 10 games in 2011.
   “I actually think we had a pretty good season despite our record,” Larimer said. “We played in the toughest league in the state.”
   The Cowboys started the season on fire, running out to an 8-2 start. However, most of the wins came against Class 4A opponents. As the Cowboys began to face Class 5A opponents in the Intermountain Conference, they struggled to get wins. The team won just two of their final 13 regular season games. During that stretch, the Cowboys lost four games to Bend, who reached the Class 5A semifinals, and four more games to Summit, the eventual runner-up in the Class 5A state championships.
   The team went into their play-in game in Baker expecting to earn their first state playoff berth in 10 years. Unfortunately, the Cowboys suffered a heartbreaking 9-8 extra-inning loss, falling just short of reaching the playoffs.
   “Looking at who reached the state championships. I really believe that had we not lost that one game, we had a chance to go deep in the playoffs,” Larimer said.
   The Cowboys placed five players on the IMC All-Star team as well as four on the All-State squad.
   Following the loss to Baker, Larimer resigned as head baseball coach, citing fundraising as his biggest reason for leaving the program. In his resignation letter, Larimer said that he enjoyed the coaching, but that “the worry and stress that goes into managing an underfunded program is too much to expect from anyone.”
   In addition to having a new head coach next year, the Cowboys will also have a whole new look on the field.
   Most of the varsity squad graduates, including All-State performers Jerren Larimer, Max Benton, Justin Cleveland, and Dayton Stafford.
   “We had a lot of players that had a good season,” Larimer said. “We are losing a lot of players. Next year, they are going to have a lot of young players and it’s going to be a rebuilding year.”
   Larimer added that he expects several of this year’s graduates to go on to college and continue playing baseball.
   Next year’s Cowboys return just five players with varsity experience.
   Sam Walker, who batted lead-off this year, should be the team’s offensive leader. Walker, who plays both second base and outfield, has good speed on the base paths, and makes consistent contact with the ball.
   Joining him on next year’s squad will be pitchers Brandon Alexander, and Troy Benton who both pitched well at times this year. Catcher Joe Saenz, who missed the first half of the season with an injury, will also return, as will Stetson Hall, who was used as a utility player during the course of the season.
   “I’m real proud of the boys,” Larimer said. “It’s a good group of kids that played hard all year. I wish them all the best.”
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