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Knights Clinch West.

August 6, 2011

Corvallis Captures Fifth Straight Division Title

Knights Clinch West.

The Corvallis Knights (pictured at Crater Lake this past week) march to their fifth consecutive West Division championship was fueled by a number of different power sources.

Head coach Brooke Knight took the nucleus assembled in the off-season and then sagely added, mixed and matched the parts to form a machine that ripped through the final month of the season with a gaudy .800 winning percentage leaving other title contenders in the dust.

It was a total team effort, highlighted by an able pitching staff and an offense that grew stronger as the summer wore on. The Knights didn't overpower anyone - their eight homers ranks near the bottom of the West Coast League - but they manufactured runs and once they got ahead their defense and bullpen simply suffocated the opposition.

Now, the Knights (38-16, 35-16) enter the playoffs looking to bookend their 2008 WCL championship.

They'll play either Bend or Cowlitz in the best-of-three West Division playoffs, set for August 12-14. The winner will face either two-time defending champion Wenatchee, Walla Walla or Bellingham in a best-of-three WCL Championship Series to be held August 16, 18-19.

"It's been a heck of a summer," Knight said. "We're excited to try to get over the line. This group really wants to win, we've got guys who plan to win, and that's a big deal.

"It gets hot and the days get long after playing the last nine months," in school and summer ball. "But we're in a nice place. We want to get after it, get a few more wins, and bring home a championship."

The Knights were 14-12 and in third place in the West Division on July 5 after losing 5 of 6 in back-to-back series against Wenatchee and Bend. However, at that point a collective light came on, and they begin their current hot streak with a sweep at Kelowna.

Corvallis then won 2 of 3 against Kitsap, three more against Kelowna, 2 of three against Bellingham and Cowlitz, 2 of 3 against Bend and seven straight games against Klamath Falls to leave the rest of the West Division field in their wake.

The Knights did not lose back-to-back games over the second half of the season. The starting pitching was outstanding, and when the game was turned over to the bullpen they did not squander late-inning leads.

UC Irvine junior-to-be Mark Trentacosta anchored the bullpen with eight saves. He has not allowed a run in 18 consecutive innings as a reliever, and has two wins and a six saves in that span.

"I feel great giving Trentacosta the ball," Knight said. "His demeanor is the type of attitude you want when it's late in the game.

"He's going to come right after guys. He's a competitor."

The pitching staff kept the Knights in contention while the other pieces of the championship puzzle fell into place. Twenty-two different players took the mound at one time or another over the summer and most excelled.

- The Knights are second in the WCL in ERA (2.48), and no one who has pitched regularly has an ERA higher than 3.66.

- Corvallis leads the WCL in strikeouts (376) and saves (15).

- Seven pitchers have made three or more starts; ten have two or more wins, and six have saves.

- Trentacosta, fellow reliever Ben Wetzler of OSU, and starters Chase Johnson of Cal Poly, Chris Johnson of University of Portland, Jace Fry of Southridge High School, Dylan Stuart of UC Riverside and Max Beatty of Pacific Lutheran all made the WCL All-Star West team.

Returnees redshirt freshman outfielder David Andriese of UC Riverside and junior catcher Corey Davis of Wright State, and newcomers frosh first baseman David Armendariz of Cal Poly, frosh third baseman Jimmy Allen of Cal Poly, junior second baseman Corey Moore of Pacific Lutheran, and frosh outfielder Connor Hofmann of Oregon were with the club for almost the entire season. They kept the Knights in title contention in early July, and then sparked the stretch drive that resulted in the division title.

Armendariz developed into an offensive force, with 15 extra-base hits and a team-best 23 RBIs.

"Armendariz has some natural leadership skills," Knight said. "He knows when it's game time.

"He's always willing to listen and ready to improve. He plays the game with passion and it's been an absolute joy to have a guy like that.

"Corey (Davis) has really come on. He struggled early but he's worked through those early scuffles and now he's one of the toughest guys in the league to get out," with a .327 average and .411 on-base percentage.

"Having a veteran like him catching has been great."

Other stabilizing components joined the club midway through the summer and helped push the Knights over the top. Neither junior shortstop Trent Oleszczuk of Seattle University, junior catcher/outfielder/infielder Ryan Gorton of OSU nor frosh outfielder Cade Gotta of Riverside CC were on hand for opening day but they were all regularly in the lineup on the aforementioned 21-4 hot streak from July 6 through August 4 that powered the Knights to the Division Championship.

"All three have played a big role," Knight said.

Oleszczuk steadied an infield reeling from the loss of starting shortstop Alex Foulon. He's also anchored the lineup with a team-best .441 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot.

"He's one of the best leadoff guys I've ever coached," Knight said. "He's got toughness and grit."

The versatile Gorton helped fill the power void and his ability to catch, play third and the outfield gave Knight more options to adjust his lineup to the opposition.

"Gorton provided leadership, he's a veteran and is versatile," Knight said. "He's done a nice job and produced."

Gotta played excellent defense in right field, hit over .300, and his all-out style infused the Knights with an added element of toughness.

"He's a tough kid, he goes out and leaves it all out there," Knight said of Gotta. "He doesn't hold back, he puts the barrel on the ball and has an above-average arm.

"He's earned respect through maximum effort."

Ten-day signees have historically played a huge role in the Knights' success, and it hasn't been unusual for one or two to stick with the team for an entire summer. However, this year's "temporary" players made an unprecedented contribution.

Instead of playing briefly and departing, frosh catcher Dane Lund of Mt. Hood CC, junior first baseman Sean Myrom of Concordia, frosh shortstop Alex Foulon of Mt. Hood CC, sophomore outfielder Matt Nylen and junior outfielder Kramer Scott of University of Portland all were key cogs in the championship machine and became part- or full-time starters. Myrom made the WCL all-star team, and won the WCL All-Star Game Home Run Derby.

"I can't imagine any team has ever had more 10-day guys retained," Knight said. "They have played a huge role. All of them are good guys, good team guys. Without them we're simply not where we're at today."

They played larger-than-expected roles because Corvallis had many holes to fill, thanks to a rash of professional signings, injuries and other obstacles.

Projected starters Dayton Alexander (center field), Nic Cuckovich (shortstop) and Michael Blake (left field) all signed pro contracts. And Alex Foulon (shortstop), Nate Blackham (right field), Jaret Bogue (catcher), Nate Roberts (third base), Griffin Boyd (third base) and Adam Duke (pitcher) all suffered season-ending injuries.

Yet the Knights rolled with the punches and steadily got stronger as the summer wore on, and finished on a roll heading into the playoffs with a comfortable first-place finish in their back pockets.

"Guys had to step up," Knight said. "They came in and performed, and we absolutely had to have that."