Loggers are manly in Turkey Shootout
December 3, 2003
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
The size of the trophy didn’t matter. What really was significant was the size of the accomplishment.
The Sierra Tahoe Loggers finished second in the 20-team Turkey Invitational Shootout last weekend in Mesa, Ariz. With a roster of high school players, the Loggers more than held their own against teams stacked with collegiate players.
Sierra Tahoe received a small cactus trophy for its runner-up finish to the Arizona Toros. The Loggers bolted to a 6-0 lead in the championship game, “but we just ran out of pitching. Seven games in three days just took its toll after not playing in five weeks,” said Loggers’ skipper Don Amaral.
Six consecutive baserunners led to a six-run Loggers’ second inning. A.J. Russo led off with single, Robert Lane walked, Marcus McKinnon singled, Jimmy Pierce singled, Kevin Schlange singled, Jeff Young doubled and Chad Walling drove in the final run with a base hit.
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But Arizona scored 14 unanswered runs to take the title.
When the tournament opened, the Loggers showed some rust, losing three games to more experienced teams. The Long Beach Breakers, who are primarily comprised of Long Beach City College players, defeated the Loggers 7-2. Next, the Loggers struggled at the plate in a 6-1 loss to the Colton Nighthawks, which really was a matchup of men against boys.
Sierra Tahoe finished pool play 0-3.
“We played some really good teams before (medal) play,” said Loggers’ catcher A.J. Russo, a senior at South Tahoe High. “I’m used to the college level, that’s all I got to see during the summer with the (Reno) Sun Devils. I thought it was a really good experience for the players who hadn’t had the chance to see that and a lot of people benefited from that.”
However, even the winless teams advanced to the medal round and the Loggers went to work on a string of upsets.
First, Sierra Tahoe used the stellar pitching performances of Ely Bently and Chad Walling to stymie the Arizona Pro Scouts, 3-1. A 4-3 upset of top-seeded Triple Play of Seattle followed. South Tahoe High’s Peter Maes tossed four solid innings before giving way to North Tahoe’s Ryan Lane. Lane pitched to the minimum nine batters over the final three innings.
“That was a classic,” Russo said. “Every at-bat, every play was nailbiting. If we would have lost, our tournament would have been over and we would have been gameless for two days.”
Maes blasted a two-run double off the fence 380-feet away, Lane belted two hits and Walling and Chris Pavich collected a hit apiece. Walling’s RBI single in the fourth inning turned out to be the game-winner.
Before a semifinal matchup with Arizona Pro Gold, Amaral noticed several players in uniform from teams the Loggers previously played. He reported the roster infraction to the umps and the Loggers were awarded a 7-1 forfeit victory.
That propelled the Loggers into Hohokom Stadium, the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs, for the championship game.
“Their infield was like a putting green,” Amaral said.
Russo and some of his teammates found the dirt around home plate more to their liking.
“A lot of us took dirt from the batter’s box after the game and all of the pitchers went to the bullpen and touched all four mounds,” Russo said. “There must have been 20,000 seats. It was a blast and a different kind of baseball environment.”
Sierra Tahoe finished its fall season with a 31-7 mark.
“It was a great season for us … four tournaments and we won two, were second in this one and third in the Chico tournament,” Amaral said. “The kids played really well and almost everyone on the team got in 100 at-bats, setting them up for their high school seasons.”
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