The La Grande Tigers baseball team is one win away from accomplishing a feat not accomplished in La Grande since the boys golf team in 2011 and 2012 — claiming back-to-back state titles.
The third-seed Tigers will vie for a second consecutive championship when they meet the No. 4 Gladstone Gladiators Saturday at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
It’s a matchup that La Grande head coach Parker McKinley feels puts two similar teams against each other.
“They can run the bases, they can hit, they can play defense,” he said of Gladstone. “Offensively, we have the potential to get to their pitchers a little bit. We have to be disciplined in our approaches. Defensively and speed-wise on the bases, I think we’re going to be pretty evenly matched.”
McKinley believes his Tigers (21-3 overall) have the advantage on the mound. La Grande has allowed just 2.46 runs per game and held 18 opponents to two runs or fewer, going 17-1 in such contests.
Gladstone (21-8), conversely, is allowing 4.21 runs per game entering the championship, and has held just 11 teams to two runs or fewer.
The Gladiators will also be facing a starting pitcher in Tigers senior Cody Dubray who has been solid all season. Dubray enters with a record of 8-0, an ERA of 1.64, and 68 strikeouts in 42-2/3 innings pitched. The Tigers, in fact, are a spotless 8-0 in his eight starts, and opponents have been held to one run or fewer in seven of his 11 appearances.
“Definitely going in calm, cool and collected,” Dubray said about his approach to the start. “I’m pretty confident going in (that I can) do what I’ve been doing all season, and we should do pretty good.”
The senior also said the Tigers should benefit from having played in the title game a year ago.
“There’s a familiarity going into it this time, where before we didn’t know what it was going to be like or what was going to happen,” he said.
McKinley added that he sees a trait in this team that the championship team of a year ago had.
“The similarities are where we’re at as a team, (and) feeling like we’re going into this with a whole bunch of guys who are out there for each other,” he said. “That chemistry is irreplaceable. These guys really have that.”
The Tigers enter with a slight edge on paper on the offensive side, as well, scoring 8.92 runs per game to the Gladiators’ 7.34.
La Grande, though, will be playing the game without a key piece of its offense with the loss of G.T. Blackman, who broke his left collarbone in a dirt bike accident Thursday.
“It was definitely a blow,” McKinley said. “It’s not something you want to hear from any of the guys. It’s kind of like last Wednesday (in the first round) when my phone started going crazy with kids with the flu. Any time you have a player within a tight-knit team affected, it impacts the whole team.”
Blackman was batting .543 with 30 RBIs and 34 runs scored on the season — all of which lead the team.
But even with the setback, the Tigers are headed into the game with the attitude they have carried all season.
“We just need to go into it with the mentality that we’re unbeatable, that we have confidence. Even with what happened (to G.T.), everyone just needs to be confident in their team and with the bats, and just play baseball like La Grande can,” senior Logan Atkinson said.
“G.T. broke a bone, (but) we got 14 other guys right there to back him up. We’re not worried about it,” senior infielder Isaac Chamberlain said.
La Grande does have several pieces in its offense to help pick up the slack. Seven other players on the roster have at least 10 RBIs and nine others have scored at least 10 runs.
McKinley said it’ll likely be a gametime decision on who fills Blackman’s spot in the leadoff role for La Grande in the batting order, but he said the team won’t be “scrambling” to find someone to take that place.
“When we get our lineup written out, it’ll be the best one we can put together to give us competitive at-bats, get guys on base and manufacture runs,” the coach said.