Tigers swing away

Sophomore Ethan Thomas steps up to the plate as Coach Matt Hilgers calls on a group of untested talent to fill key holes on the 2019 roster. (Photo by Rick Beasley)

LINCOLN CITY — In a dubious scheduling move that stings baseball fans like a bean ball, the No. 8-ranked Taft Tigers are on the road for the final eight games of the season away.

The Tigers hit the road Friday, April 26, splitting a double header with league rival Rainier, 2-4 and 7-6. On Tuesday, Taft traveled to Warrenton where they lost 2-4.

Hometown crowds grew fast during a spectacular run of nine mid-season home games where word was out: the Tigers almost couldn’t lose, going eight wins for two losses in The Pit and firing popcorn and hot dog sales for the boosters.

It was a different team than the darlings of the 3A in 2018, undefeated conference champions who were predicted to take it all until LaPine delivered a one-off in the semi-finals. The roster was shuffled to fill open positions. Under pitching new rules, veterans and newcomers alike went to the bullpen in the search of untapped talent.

“As far as I’m concerned, everybody’s a pitcher,” remarked Matt Hilgers, head coach.

The noisy support inspired the upstart team and surprised visitors like Catlin Gabel, who melted in the drizzle in a two-game series 22-5 and 11-2. Clatskanie, jaunty and suntanned from a wining spring break series in Arizona, lost 17-0.

The wins brought the Tigers back into the Top 10 coach’s poll and recalled last year’s drive to the semi-finals. But Coach Matt Hilgers ignores the popularity contests, knowing the road hasn’t been as good to the Tigers. So far, Taft has won just two of seven away games.

“Rankings don’t mean much,” said Hilgers as the Tigers readied for a double-header with Willamina today. “We’ve got a lot to prove.”

Taft enters the final stretch with a 10-10 overall record, and 6-4 in the  3A-SD2 league, a lackluster name for a rugged conference that includes No. 5 Warrenton (12-3) and No. 6 Rainier (10-6). The May 3 double header with Willamina begins at 3 p.m.

 

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