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McDonald’s/Legacy Ford shortstop Eli Childs waits for the ball as Milton-Freewater’s Calvin Thacker slides in safely. (Casey Kellas/The Observer)
It’s been just two years since an American Legion baseball team from La Grande won a state title.
But this year’s team is looking primed to bring the trophy back to town.
The McDonald’s/Legacy Ford Legends are 31-5 after sweeping Milton-Freewater Tuesday night to wrap up the regular season.
The Legends will host the district tournament beginning Friday at Optimist Field.
And the team knows just what’s at stake.
“It sets high expectations,” first baseman Jake Chamberlain said. “Going into that tournament with that good of a record, you have to live up to it. So, it’s a lot of pressure. You can’t just go in there thinking you’re going to win.”
The Legends have won 14 games in a row and haven’t tasted a loss since falling to Klamath Falls in the Star-Spangled Tournament in Corvallis July 7.
Since then, McDonald’s/Legacy Ford has been especially good, outscoring opponents 150-24 in that span. So, what’s made the Legends so good to this point?
“Playing as a team,” infielder Tyson Wicklander said.
“Picking each other up.”
Mitch Workinger added that the team has “executed the routine.”
The players and coaches like the way they match up with some of the teams they will face at the district tournament.
“(We’re) disciplined,” catcher J.C. Rogers said. “Just in every aspect. The way we warm up. Everything.”
The Legends have had a consistent attack of solid pitching and timely hitting this season.
Kaleb White and Workinger both sport 5-1 records on the mound. White has a 1.74 earned run average in 40-1/3 innings pitched, while Workinger has a 1.72 ERA in 36-2/3 innings.
Both Wicklander and Garett Avila have four wins, while five pitchers have two wins each.
As a team, the Legends have a 2.12 ERA in 224 innings pitched this season.
At the plate, McDonald’s/Legacy Ford is hitting .321 in 1,154 plate appearances.
Chamberlain is hitting .436 and slugging .606 with a team-high 33 RBIs and 36 runs scored. Joe Griffin is hitting .417, and Rogers is hitting .398 with 31 RBIs.
Nine players are hitting higher than .300 this year.
“We’ve had a lot of different pitchers who have had a lot of complete games, or near complete games,” coach Mike Wisdom said. “We’ve had a lot of different lineups, a lot of different guys playing. And they’ve all played well.”
The team said they knew a couple of weeks into the season that they had a good collection of talent capable of making a postseason run.
“I think winning the Pendleton Tournament really got me going,” outfielder Eli Wisdom said.
The players also agreed it has been a team effort to this point.
“Everybody has stepped up this year,” Chamberlain added. “Nobody’s been slacking. Everybody has been up and playing as good as they can.”
The Legends also have added confidence knowing they get to host the district tournament and play at Optimist Field, a place where they are comfortable performing.
“It’s going to be exciting playing in front of the crowd,” Wicklander said.
Wisdom said the way the team has come together this season is going to help them as the games have more at stake.
“They’ve all supported each other,” Wisdom said.
“We have a mix of ages here — guys who are gonna be juniors, some seniors and some who have graduated — and they’ve all played together. They’ve shown a lot of team unity.”
Hermiston and Pendleton will kick off the district tournament at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Optimist Field. The Legends will take on The Dalles at 6 p.m.
The tournament continues Saturday, with the championship scheduled for Sunday at noon unless a second game is needed.
If so, that game will be at 2:30 p.m.