Legion may be thing of past in local area
When Lake Oswego was knocked from the metro area playoffs last week, it might have marked an end to the Lakers' tenure as an American Legion team. In fact, the American Legion program could be on shaky ground with a large percentage of Portland-area teams.
At issue is the length of the legion season, which runs through the middle of August by the time the state tournament is completed. By then, most of the remaining Portland-area teams face the prospect of losing some of their key players to other endeavors.
In the Lakers' case, if they had advanced to the state tournament this year, they would have lost some of their top players to the football team's senior retreat, which is scheduled for the same weekend as the state tournament.
'We would have lost three seniors (to be). So that would have made it tough,' Lake Oswego coach Jake Anders said. 'That's part of what American Legion has to look at.'
It's already hard enough for Portland-area teams to compete at state, where at least half of the competitors are all-star or multi-school teams. Most of the metro teams draw only from their individual schools.
Many of the Portland-area coaches would like to see American Legion move up the timeline for its tournaments, so the state tourney is completed by approximately the end of July. That might be difficult, though, since the state champion advances to the Northwest regional tournament, which is held in mid-August each year. Then, the winner of that tournament advances to the American Legion World Series, which is held in late-August.
A more likely scenario would have many of the Portland-area teams splitting away from American Legion and forming their own independent league. In fact, many of the region's coaches are expected to discuss that matter at a meeting that will be held within the next two weeks, Anders said.
'There's been a big discussion between a bunch of coaches in the metro area of going to an entirely independent league next year,' Anders said.
'Everybody in the metro area is facing the same thing. They can't play 'til the middle of August because we're playing football and we're sharing kids. We can't expect them to miss their football things, et cetera.'
Some of American Legion's biggest supporters believe the Portland-area teams should follow the lead of their southern counterparts and form all-star teams. That would make them more competitive at the state level. Plus, the loss of two or three players near the end of the season wouldn't hurt as much.
But Anders said that's not a viable solution for his team.
'Obviously, we're not for that,' he said. 'We can't be combining teams and not coaching our own kids. You're doing a disservice to the kids in your program if you do that.'
'Ultimately, you're getting your kids ready for school ball. If you're splitting up your own team, you're not building chemistry and all of that other stuff,' the coach added.
So, there's a fair possibility that many of the Portland-area teams will break away from American Legion next year. One of the goals would be to have a metro-wide tournament in late July that would essentially be their state tournament. And it's unlikely that the winner of that tournament would advance beyond that point, Anders said.
'I think if American Legion doesn't adjust their timeline, you're going to see a mass exodus in the metro area,' Anders said.
And why not break away since it's become difficult for local teams to compete against all-star teams from the valley and southern regions.
'When you're playing against 19-year-olds and returning college kids, it's just a different competition level,' Anders added.
'The thrill for our kids when they get back (to the state legion tournament) … is playing against (top-level) competition,' the coach continued. 'But you can achieve that same concept playing within your own localized area. You can still have a state tournament at the end and give the kids part of the summer off.'
As it turned out, the Lake Oswego legion team will get the rest of this summer off, but only because the Lakers lost to Dr. Barney's Southridge team last week in the second round of the metro playoffs.
The Lakers hurt themselves by committing seven errors in the first game. That led to four unearned runs, which spelled the difference in an 8-6 home-field victory for the Skyhawks. Southridge followed that effort with a masterful 5-0 victory the following day on Lake Oswego's turf field.
'(Southridge) deserved to win. They beat us two games in a row and they deserved to move on,' Anders said.
Lake Oswego probably deserved a better fate in the first game, especially with its top pitcher, Jared Van Hoon, on the mound. The side-winder helped his own cause when he belted a solo home run to tie the game at 2-all in the top of the third inning. But it was mostly downhill after that.
In the bottom of the third, the Lakers committed a pair of errors, which led to two unearned runs and Southridge had the lead for good at 4-2.
The bottom of the fourth was especially difficult for Lake Oswego. That frame featured two more errors, plus a hit batsman and an obstruction play that gave Southridge a free run. The inning also included a pair of doubles and a single, and by the time the dust had settled, Southridge had an 8-2 lead.
The Lakers made a nice rally in the top of the fifth when they scored four times to cut the gap to 8-6. The outburst included a sacrifice fly by Nik Torkelson, then a two-run double by Craig Mooney and a clutch, opposite-field RBI single by Tom Slade.
After Slade's single, Southridge brought in reliever Mitch Edwards to put out the fire and he delivered in a big way. He struck out the first four batters he faced. Of the eight batters he faced overall, only one reached base. That came when Mooney drew a two-out walk in the seventh.
Amazingly, Edwards was back on the mound to start the next day's game and he looked almost as strong as he was the day before as he threw an eight-hit, complete-game shutout.
But the Lakers had their chances in their second viewing of Edwards. They had an opportunity to break a scoreless tie in the bottom of the third but the inning ended with the bases loaded.
Then, after falling behind 4-0, the Lakers put their first two batters on board in the sixth, but a double play ended that threat.
It was just one of those series when nothing seemed to go right.