Senior Americans bring Putnam Youth Baseball its first JBO state championship since 2005

by: LAUREN PISANESCHI - Putnam Senior Americans display their trophies and plaques after an amazing season of Junior Baseball. After winning tournaments in Canby and Clackamas, placing first in their county league and placing second at the Clackamas County Senior American Championship Tournament, the Kingsmen capped off the season with a state championship. Members of the standout ball club included: (front row, left to right) Hayden Wilson, Drew Urban, Dominic Pisaneschi, Hunter Manaserro, Travis Dupell and Harrison Young; (second row) coach Ben Harley, Connor Kmetic, Carson LEsperance, Brady Miller, Ethan Anderson, Colby Grace, Trygve Nordby and coach Dan Manaserro; and (back) coach Bruce Wilson and head coach Ray LEsperance.July 20, 2014 was an historic day for Putnam Junior Baseball.

That’s when Putnam’s Senior American baseball team defeated Banks 14-2 for the state championship in the intermediate Junior Baseball division for 13- and 14-year-olds.

“I’ve been told it’s the first time since 2002 that Putnam has had a state champion in JBO,” said Ray L’Esperance, who was head coach of this year’s Putnam Senior American team.

Former Putnam Youth Baseball president Todd Sonflieth, upon checking the record books, determined that Putnam’s most recent Junior Baseball state champions before this year were a Junior American team in 2002 and a Junior National team in 2005.

This year’s accomplishment was all the more impressive because, L’Esperance says, only two of the 12 boys on this year’s team had ever played in postseason before, let alone played for a state championship team.

“Six players on this team — Dom Pisaneschi, Ethan Anderson, Carson L’Esperance, Hayden Wilson, Drew Urban and Trygve Nordby — have played together on and off since Midgets,” said L’Esperance. “Only two players on the team, Hayden Wilson and Colby Grace, had even made it to postseason before.”

L’Esperance explained his ball club’s unexpected success:

“The team jelled. I’ve coached for six years and this is the first time I didn’t have a single attitude. The boys truly liked each other and enjoyed playing together.

“Also, a number of the kids started practicing in December. Starting Dec. 1, Mike Geertsen, Ben Harley, Steve Harley, Bruce Wilson and Dan Manassero started taking the kids to Willamette Striders in Oregon City, where they’d practice hitting and work on the fundamentals. Those five adults played a huge role in our success.

“Ben Harley was a huge piece of the puzzle. He played on the 2002 JBO team that won state and he was my assistant coach. He handled the skill training for all of my boys. I did the administrating and he did the coaching. He is really knowledgeable about baseball and he is the main reason we did so well. He’s amazing!

“And we got a lot of support from the high school coaches, Jason Stanley and Steve Harley. They worked with our kids from time to time.”

L’Esperance says that winning state was huge for himself and the boys who have played with him since they were 9 and 10-year-olds:

“For the group of six kids who I coached on and off since they were Midgets, to see them do this, it was just amazing. It almost brought tears to my eyes when we did it. The kids were saying, ‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.’ We stayed on the field and celebrated for an hour [following the state championship game].

“I think every one of these kids learned a life lesson. You work hard and you’ll get what you worked for....

“I’m very proud for this eighth grade class. They haven’t had a lot of success in sports over the years. For them to make county and get this far, it’s just wonderful. I’m very, very happy for them. It’s been an amazing season!”

“They’ve had the talent all along,” said Ben Harley. “It’s just been a matter of putting in the time and getting it to come out. These kids were hard workers, and they became very good friends.”

Vying for the standout Putnam Senior American ball club were: Brady Miller (right field), Carson L’Esperance (left field), Colby Grace (pitcher), Connor Kmetic (first base), Dom Pisaneschi (third base), Drew Urban (right field), Ethan Anderson (left field), Harrison Young (second base), Hayden Wilson (catcher), Hunter Manassero (shortstop), Travis Dupell (second base) and Trygve Nordby (centerfield).

Hitting was the team’s strong suit. The team had an incredible .467 team batting average en route to an overall record of 30-7. Their team batting average for 11 postseason games in the county and state tournaments was .460.

The Kingsmen defeated Southridge (16-9), Clackamas County champion Wilson (10-6) and Banks twice (5-2 and 14-2) en route to claiming first place in the double elimination state tournament, which was contested July 17-20 in Estacada.

They qualified for state by finishing runner-up to Wilson in the Clackamas County Senior American Championship Tournament, winning five of seven games played over a span of three days at Silverton High School.

After defeating Clackamas (Kelly) 8-5 in their county tournament opener, they dropped a close game to Gladstone 8-6. They then battled through the losers bracket with wins over Clackamas (Schoen) 16-8, Lake Oswego (12-1) and Gladstone (10-7), earning two shots at Wilson for the county title.

They beat Wilson in the first county final 11-7, but dropped a 16-14 heartbreaker to the Trojans in the game for the title of the double elimination tournament.

Grace and Pisaneschi were huge for the Kingsmen in postseason. Pisaneschi had 22 hits in 30 at bats for a .733 batting average; Grace had 18 hits in 25 at bats for a .720 batting average. Pisaneschi scored 19 runs; Grace scored 20 runs in postseason, had 16 RBI and eight extra-base hits.

Manassero hit .552 in postseason; Urban hit .500 and had 17 RBI.

Grace was the Kingsmen’s top slugger on the 2014 season, with a .638 batting average (60-for-94), 58 runs and 48 RBI. Other top sluggers on the season were Manassero (.604, 62 runs, 32 RBI), Urban (.580, 58 RBI, 45 runs), Pisaneschi (.545, 53 runs, 10 RBI), and Travis Dupell (.482, 48 runs, 46 RBI).

Grace was a workhorse on the mound in postseason, pitching 21-2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts in six postseason games; Nordby had 16 strikeouts in 12-1/3 innings; Anderson had eight strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings; Dupell had 10 strikeouts in 17 innings; Urban allowed only 10 runs in 12-1/3 innings.

The Putnam Senior Americans showed up at state ready to play. They never trailed in any of their state tournament games.

Grace hit a grand slam home run, his second roundtripper of the season, in the 16-9 win over Southridge. The Kingsmen went up 5-0 in the first inning of that game.

Nordby came through big-time in the 10-6 win over Wilson, going 3-for-3 with his bat and scoring three times. Grace also scored three runs in that game. The Kingsmen once again scored five runs in the first inning and were in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.

Grace, Pisaneschi, Manassero, Dupell and Nordby all had base hits in the first inning of the Wilson game. Urban helped seal the win, with three innings of shutout ball as a relief pitcher.

Dupell pitched a full seven innings in the 5-2 win over Banks, striking out four, walking one and scattering seven hits. The Kingsmen went up 5-0 in that game before Banks got on the scoreboard with a single tally in the top of the fifth.

Dupell, Anderson and Urban had two hits apiece to lead an 11-hit Kingsmen offensive attack.

The Kingsmen took charge of the title game with Banks in the third inning, when they scored seven runs on eight hits. Anderson, L’Esperance, Miller, Pisaneschi, Manassero, Dupell, Nordby and Wilson all hit safely in the big inning. Banks trailed 14-0 when the Braves scored their only runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The Kingsmen pounded out 13 hits as every player on the team got a hit in Putnam’s first game of the county tournament, the 8-5 win over Clackamas (Kelly). Pisaneschi had two hits; Anderson, Nordby and Grace all had two RBI.

The 8-6 loss to Gladstone in the second game of the county tournament was a tough one for the Kingsmen. They had gone 15-1 in league play during the regular season, with their only loss to Gladstone. And the game at the county tournament was a battle, with the lead changing hands in nearly every inning and Gladstone winning the contest with three runs in the last inning. Manassero had two singles and two RBI in the loss.

The Kingsmen had to come from behind in their 16-8 win over Clackamas (Schoen). Trialing 8-5, they fired up for eight hits and 11 runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to put that game on ice. Manassero had two hits and Pisaneschi had a run-scoring double in the big inning.

Anderson was tough on the mound in the 12-1 win over Lake Oswego, a game that was called after five innings because of the mercy rule. Anderson struck out seven, walked one batter and scattered six hits.

Young, Manassero and Urban had two hits apiece in the rout.

Next came the 10-7 win in a marathon rematch with Gladstone, a contest that had several delays because of thunder and lightning. The game started at 9:30 a.m. and wasn’t over until 2:30 p.m.

L’Esperance explained what his charges did during the game delays: “They listened to music and danced in the dugout.”

Trailing 7-2, it wasn’t until the top of the fourth, when the Kingsmen scored six runs, that they took the lead. Big hits in the pivotal inning were doubles by Grace and Wilson, and bunt singles by Anderson and L’Esperance.

Grace, Wilson, Manassero and Pisaneschi all hit a double and a single in the winning effort.

The Kingsmen once again had revenge on their minds when they then met county champion Wilson. They had 21 hits in the 11-7 win.

“Our boys came out ready to play,” L’Esperance said. Pisaneschi, Grace and Urban led the hitting barrage, each with three hits in four at bats. Pisaneschi scored three times.

Trailing 6-3, the Kingsmen scored five runs in the sixth inning and three more in the seventh to pull out the 11-7 come-from-behind win.

The 16-14 loss to Wilson in the county championship final was a tough, tough loss, because Wilson scored two runs with two down in the bottom of the sixth to claim the spoils. The Kingsmen outhit the Trojans 22-20 in the loss. Big sticks were Pisaneschi (4-for-4, 3 runs), Manassero (3-for-4, 3 runs, 2 RBI) and Urban (3-for-4, 3 RBI, 2 runs).

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