Portland team earns fourth consecutive shot at Legion title

The Portland Eastside Barbers are the only American Legion team in the state of Oregon to go to four consecutive state tournaments.

The team took sixth in 2010, third in 2011 and seventh in 2012. Heading into this week’s double-elimination tournament, which began Wednesday in Medford, Barbers coach Joe Duran said his latest squad has a chance to do even better.

“This is the best team I’ve had in four years,” Duran said.

The Barbers have players from Central Catholic, Reynolds, Madison and Liberty high schools. “It’s been a good mix,” Duran said.

Going into the Barbers’ first game at state, against the Post 20 Dirtbags from Salem, they were riding a 17-game win streak, which helped them to a 37-8 record, the best of any Legion team in the state. The Barbers also went undefeated in their league, Zone 2, posting a 15-0 mark.

“They have it all together and played good competition throughout the summer. It’s increased their confidence in their ability to get better,” said Alpenrose Dairy coach Mike Clopton.

Wednesday’s other first-round games had the Grants Pass Nuggets going against the Corvallis Gerding Builders Marketmen; the Canyon/Salem Crushers playing the Northwest Star East County Knights (who finished second in Zone 2), and the Columbia Gorge Hustlers meeting the host Medford Mustangs.

The Barbers are without their starting outfielders in the tournament because of a torn hamstring, a work obligation and a tonsillectomy. However, Duran was more concerned about the pressure of the long winning streak.

“The guys going in are fine,” Duran said. “But baseball is fickle. It’s hard to win 20 or 21 in a row.”

Duran, who played at Roosevelt and Portland State in the early 1990s, is a social studies teacher and junior varsity baseball coach at Cleveland. He cut his teeth as an assistant under Clopton, who has been impressed by his protégé.

“He’s a kid at heart,” Clopton said. “He’s a players’ manager. He knows what makes them tick. He has the ability to get the most out of them.

“It’s a cross between his personality, his upbringing and his love for the game. He’s a player at heart. He manages the way he played. He tries to get them to play with that passion and love of the game.”

First baseman Kevin Lave, from Liberty, is hitting .480 and broke the team record for doubles (17). Liberty third baseman Dakota Drake is hitting .396, broke the team home-run record (eight) and has driven in 52 runs. Catcher Mitchell Rose, from Central Catholic, who was runner-up player of the year in the Mt. Hood Conference, is six hits shy of the team record of 60.

“Offensively, our one through nine hitters are tough outs,” Duran said. “And it’s a different guy coming through for us every night.”

The Barbers have gotten quality starting pitching, too. Lane Evans, from Reynolds, has a 1.13 ERA with 57 strikeouts. Cole Stringer, from Central Catholic, is the Barbers’ best left-hander. And John Doyle, who played for Concordia last season after going to Madison, is 6-0.

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