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While the Canby Cougar baseball team’s annual Arizona trip might not have gone their way, the team returned from its spring break excursion having learned a lot about where they are — and what they need to improve on.
Opening the season with four games in four days, the Cougs fell in their first three games, two in heartbreaking fashion, before winning their final game in the Coach Bob National Invitational in Anthem, Arizona, near Phoenix.
The Cougs (1-3) started their weekend with an in-state opponent, facing La Grande (4-1). The game was scoreless through the first four innings, thanks in part to excellent pitching from Joe Brauckmiller.
The senior, still harboring an injury, pitched four scoreless innings to start the game. And when Mikey Gibson — who went 2-3 on the day — drove in Kellan Oakes with an RBI single, Canby had a 1-0 lead.
But, in what would quickly become a pattern for Canby in the Coach Bob, the Cougars were unable to hold onto the lead. After scoring a run to tie the game, the Tigers had two on base in the bottom of the seventh.
The three-run walk-off homer gave the Cougars a brutal loss to open the tourney.
The second game of the tournament the next day, against Dakota Ridge (Colo.) (2-1), would be a carbon copy of the first. Oakes — the senior who plans on playing baseball next year at Linn-Benton Community College — led the Cougars from the mound and the plate.
Oakes struck out five batters in three innings and drove in four runs. Thanks to Oakes and Hunter Robinson, who went 2-3 on the day, Canby took a 4-2 lead in the fifth.
Once again, though, the Cougars ran out of gas. The Eagles scored one run in the fifth, then two more in the sixth. With the game called early due to time, the last hit by Dakota Ridge proved to be another walk-off loss for Canby, the second in two days.
Baseball Northwest on Twitter: “Congrats to Kellan Oakes, 2022 RHP/INF from Canby HS (OR) on his commitment to @LB_Baseball19!@CougarChs | @CanbyAthletics | @nwdiamond | @Benz_Baseball | @AJ_Peterson1 https://t.co/Vv33XsCGx9 pic.twitter.com/b5NJrQizzA / Twitter”
Congrats to Kellan Oakes, 2022 RHP/INF from Canby HS (OR) on his commitment to @LB_Baseball19!@CougarChs | @CanbyAthletics | @nwdiamond | @Benz_Baseball | @AJ_Peterson1 https://t.co/Vv33XsCGx9 pic.twitter.com/b5NJrQizzA
While there would be no walk-off on Wednesday against Shadow Ridge (Ariz.) (8-7), the Cougars would once again squander an early lead. Canby jumped out to a 1-0 advantage when Oakes drove in Brauckmiller in the bottom of the first inning.
This time for the Cougars, though, the game would not be close, as the Stallions scored seven runs in the next few innings. While Jack Joyce pitched excellently in relief, not allowing a baserunner, the damage had been done. Canby lost, 1-7.
After three tough losses to open the season, the Cougars finally got a break, beating down Littleton (CO) (0-3) to end their time in Arizona. Alex Evans had an excellent day on the mound, striking out six and allowing a single run.
The Cougars broke away from the Lions in the third inning, where they scored an otherworldly 11 runs. Brauckmiller, Oakes, Bryce Oliver and Casey Langdale all scored 2 runs each while Canby pulled ahead. Littleton either walked or hit 14 batters en route to an easy 13-3 victory for the Cougars, their first win of the year.
Kellan Oakes was the star of the tournament for the Cougars. Along with striking at five behind the mound, Oakes batted .500 with a 6-12 mark and drove in five RBIs.
While players like Oakes and Brauckmiller shone, Canby head coach J.J. Stolsig knows that there’s more work to be done.
“Overall, we didn’t play our best baseball,” said Stolsig, “but we learned what areas we need to improve on as we gear up for another non-league week of baseball before getting into our league schedule.”
The Cougars, who travel to the Invitational nearly every year, use the experience as a time to not only to hone their baseball skills, but also bond and get to know each other better.
“Our boys learned a lot about each other as baseball players,” said Stolsig. “But also, more importantly, what each guy is about off the field. We had a great trip.”
The Cougars will be back in action with three home games this week: two have games against Southridge and Lebanon, and one away game at Barlow.
Canby’s first game against Southridge, scheduled for Tuesday, is slated to begin at 5 p.m.
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