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Barbers sharpen edge for state tournament

But Legion Zone 2 champions will miss ace pitcher Stringer


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: DAN BROOD - Jay Rogers (left), making a play on defense this spring for Reynolds High, has been the leading hitter for the American Legion Zone 2 champion Portland Barbers.The Portland Barbers have put together a sensational summer of AAA American Legion baseball.

With the state playoffs approaching, the Barbers — comprised of players from Central Catholic, Madison, Liberty and Reynolds high schools — were 39-5 overall and 20-1 in league play.

Barbers coach Joe Duran is not surprised by how well his team has been playing. The record, though, is not something he can truly say he expected.

“Going 39-5, you never see that coming,” Duran says. “But, with how many guys we had returning and the new guys we added, I knew we were going to have a special squad.

“We’ve broken every team pitching record, individual pitching record, team batting average, team hits, individual home-run record, individual RBIs record ... it’s just a special year.”

So much talent on the roster has made it a challenge for Duran to find playing time for everyone.

“This has been my toughest year coaching, because we are so deep and the pressure to win is so high,” he says. “I want to win every inning, no doubt about it. But all of these guys deserve a chance to play. We have three second basemen who are college-level at that position. It’s hard juggling innings and getting enough at bats.

“No matter how much you preach team and togetherness, all these kids are competitors and they want to contribute. And when they do get in, they contribute. It’s been tough.”

Reynolds shortstop Jay Rogers has led the Barbers at the plate this summer.

“Jay Rogers shouldn’t be a surprise, because he was first-team all state and he was player of the year in the Mt. Hood Conference,” Duran says. “But he’s broken our hits record, he’s broken our RBIs record, he’s broken our extra-base hit record, he’s broken our home-run record and he’s going to break our batting average record, too.”

Central Catholic pitcher Cole Stringer, who has full tuition and books to the University of Oregon, has led the Barbers on the mound with an ERA under 1.00.

“I’ve never heard of getting that much money for baseball,” Duran says, of Stringer. “His ERA is unheard of for this time in the year.”

The Barbers are headed to the annual AAA Legion state championship tournament, after meeting T. Gerding Construction on Wednesday, then playing a final pre-state tourney game against Showtime.

The Barbers won the Lew’s Wood Bat Classic Tournament and the Grenade Classic Tournament, but lost to Showtime 7-5 in extra innings in the Papa’s

Invitational.

“We had beat them earlier in the tournament,” Duran says. “So I want revenge. I also want guys to stay sharp, because we got a bye and don’t play our first game in the state tournament until Tuesday (July 29).”

The playoffs begin with three super regionals, including one Friday through Sunday that features the teams that finish second through sixth in the same league, Zone 2, as The Barbers.

The NW Star Academy Knights (Sandy) took second in Zone 2 with a 16-5 league record. Taylor (Putnam) was third at 12-9, with the Alpenrose Dairy Red Sox (Wilson) fourth at 11-10 and Central Catholic fifth at 9-12.

Zone 2 regional playoff games Friday will have Wilson at Dallas Post No. 20 and NW Star at Barlow, both at 5 p.m., while Taylor travels to Roseburg for a 4 p.m. Friday game against the Canyon Crushers.

The Barbers finished fifth in the AAA Legion state tournament last year, after losing 4-3 to Grants Pass in 11 innings.

This year’s state tournament is July 30-Aug. 4 at Grants Pass.

The Barbers will have to try to win without relying on their star pitcher. On Saturday, Duran found out that Stringer became the only Oregon pitcher from Oregon to make the elite Area Code team, so he will be able to pitch only the opening game of the state tournament.

“It was bittersweet news,” Duran says. “With him on the mound, we can beat anybody. That is a big blow, when you lose your No. 1 starter.”

Still, the Barbers will enter the state tournament with the sole goal of becoming state champions.

“If we don’t win the state championship, it will be a big disappointment,” Duran says. “We’re one of the top three teams in the state, and we have the pitching depth and the offensive firepower to do it.”