Knappa baseball falls in state title game

KEIZER — Though the Knappa High School Loggers tried and tried, they weren’t able to come back from an early deficit against Umpqua Valley Christian.

Saturday’s 2A/1A state title game at Volcanoes Stadium had all the storylines covered. Knappa came into the game on a 24-game winning streak and averaging 10 runs per game on the season. Umpqua Valley was on a 19-game winning streak and averaging 11 runs per game with a team batting average of over .350.

With all the similarities between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, something was going to have to give. Both teams went back-and-forth, combining for 22 runs and 24 hits, but behind a four-run first inning, the Monarchs prevailed 13-9 to claim their first state championship since 2019.

“The four early runs is never ideal,” Knappa head coach Jeff Miller said. “I was confident we would get back and we answered beautifully with the two runs after so you know you’re in it. I’m just so impressed with how our guys battled back three times from deficits today. We ran out of steam in the last inning, but better team today won the game — they hit the ball, we hit the ball, good high school baseball game."

Though it ended in defeat, Saturday showed the toughness and resiliency Knappa plays with on the diamond. Going down 4-0 in a title game can be deflating, but the boys always seemed to have an answer.

After falling behind, the Loggers scored the next three to make it a one-run game. Then the Loggers trailed 11-4 after the Monarchs scored three runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, only for Knappa to battle back to score five in the bottom half of the fifth to get back to a two-run deficit.

Though they had chances, the Loggers just couldn’t get over the hill to tie the game or take the lead.

Daniel Withers, of Umpqua Valley Christian, was the MVP of the game as he went 3-4 with three runs batted in and a home run. He also struck out five of the last six batters he faced to earn the save.

Despite coming up short, the resiliency comes down to the character of the Loggers senior class. Knappa finished the season 24-5.

“Our senior class are obviously good baseball players, you saw it today, we’ve seen it all year and the last four years,” Miller said. “Those are easy guys to love. They’re the kind of people you always want as a part of your life. That’s what’s hard as a coach is that you don’t have day-to-day contact with them anymore. They are going to go on and do great things, hopefully this a good memory for them.”

Despite losing a strong senior class, the Loggers are returning a number of key players in Jude Miller, Braxton Hill, Oliver Stevens, Gavin Barendse and Karson Casper. Miller said the key to returning to the state title game will rest with the young players' will to win and amount of offseason work they put in.

“I hope they got a taste of it, hope they liked it,” Miller said. “Hope there’s disappointment, but that they liked playing here and the journey it took to reach this point.”