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Kennedy Trojans returns to upper echelon of baseball elite in search of third straight championship berth

The Kennedy High School baseball program marks the 10-year anniversary of its first and only state championship on June 1.

PMG FILE PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Kennedys attack at the plate has produced the most runs of any team at the 2A/1A level.

After advancing to the state quarterfinals a year prior, the Trojans' 10-4 victory over Weston-McEwen in the 2012 2A/1A finals helped kick off a 10-year streak of playoff runs and an era of baseball where Kennedy is considered one of the premier small school programs in the state.

Head coach Kevin Moffatt, who has helmed the team for 17 years, credits much of the success to the network of parents and coaches in Mount Angel dedicated to teaching the game to each generation of student athletes who finish their careers under his tutelage.

"I go out last night, and there are games on every field," Moffatt said. "It's a sight to see."

Moffatt sites Greg Traeger and Ryan Kleinschmit among the many parents who have volunteered their time and energy over nearly two decades to help build the varsity program to the powerhouse it is today.

"Being a high school coach - it's not easy, but it's less important than those youth coaches," he said. "The youth coaches is where they learn the game and the proper fundamentals when they come to high school.

Moffatt describes it as a self-perpetuating system. Younger players see the success at the high school-level and want to be a part of it, so they put in the time and effort.

That in turn fuels a robust junior varsity program, allowing young high school players to build the necessary game experience when waiting behind upperclassmen.

"We've had a JV team every year, that's not the case in a lot of places," Moffatt said. "That just makes a huge difference too."

PMG FILE PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Kennedys defense in the infield and outfield coupled with its pitching have the least runs allowed of any team with at-least 10 games played.

Championship contender

Since 2011, Kennedy has made the quarterfinals in all but two seasons, but it wasn't until recently that the Trojans became synonymous with being a championship contender.

Beginning in 2018, Kennedy has built a resume that includes three straight league titles, two state finals runs, a semifinals appearance and an 84-10 record.

The only stumble in that time was the cancelled season of 2020. And while every team in the state was affected by having the rug abruptly pulled out from under their feet that year, it was a particularly hard blow for Class of 2020 that had spent a lifetime building to that particular moment.

"We only lost two kids off that 2019 team, and I feel that was probably our best team that we've had," Moffatt said. "The two pitchers that would have been coming back are two starters on Chemeketa's college team right now."

Behind the ace pitching of Dylan Kleinschmit and Josh Valladares, the Trojans went 28-3 in the 2019 campaign, falling 10-5 to Umpqua Valley Christian in the state championship game. It was the second straight year the team had built a near-flawless season, only to fall to the eventual state champion. That spring was their best and final chance to deliver a second state baseball title to Mount Angel, but the Trojans and so many others saw the opportunity evaporate into thin air that year.

"That's why I feel bad for them, I've coached long enough to be in some of those things, but kids only get so many shots," Moffatt said.

Despite the year off, the Trojans didn't skip a beat in 2021. Led by Kleinschmit and fellow slinger Brady Traeger, the remaining seniors from the 2019 championship runner-up were eager to return to the upper echelon of baseball and follow through on the unfulfilled promise from the season prior.

In a shortened season, Kennedy went 18-1 over the span of five weeks, culminating in a championship week tournament organized by the 2A/1A coaches and athletic directors. Kennedy won its first two games to advance to the final four, which concluded with consecutive games for the semifinals and finals in one afternoon. The Trojans slipped past league rival Western Christian 4-3, only to fall 11-6 to the Glide Wildcats to finish runner-up once again.

"(It) was a little crazy, but it gave the kids a chance to at least play for something after the past year and half or two years," Moffatt said.

2022 season

Flash forward a year later, and the 2022 Trojans look remarkably similar to the 2019 squad - a handful of seniors leading a mostly junior-dominated team.

And once again, Kennedy has built a dominating team that has risen to every challenge thrown its way. Through 17 games, the Trojans have gone 15-2 and boast the most runs scored (217) of any 2A/1A team in the state while giving up the second fewest (18).

Moffatt doesn't put much stock in the offensive numbers, which can become distorted against struggling and rebuilding programs. But the defense and pitching is what matters most in the postseason, and he think his team is built well for those types of games that are decided by a handful of runs and plays.

"We're deeper than most teams pitching for sure," Moffatt said. "Pitching depth is huge this year, because I think the state is a little deeper as far as the number of teams that are ok."

Junior Ethan Kleinschmit has been the team's primary workhorse this season, throwing 431 balls through eight appearances.

"(He's) right about as good as any at our level," Moffatt said. "I don't think he's given up a run this year, and I think he's only given up one or two hits. He's been pretty dominant."

Fellow junior Andrew Cuff has likewise chewed through innings in his eight appearances, throwing 444 pitches, including three scoreless frames in a 20-0 win over Country Christian on April 28.

Cuff has been played a huge role in keeping the Trojans at the top of the OSAA standings while Moffatt works senior starter Riley Cantu into the rotation.

"Him and Riley are 2 and 2A," Moffatt said. "Riley we kind of brought him in a little slower, because he had a little bit of a sore arm last year, because we went right from football to baseball last year. He threw so many balls in football, and I don't think he ever quite recovered, and this year we kind of slow played it a little bit. He's been building up his endurance and pitch counts."

Behind the plate, junior Charlie Beyer has been a dependable presence for the Trojans, providing a much-needed defensive backstop.

"He's been unbelievable," Moffatt said. "I think he might be the best defensive catcher in the state. He just shuts down run games, and he catches every single game for us and that's a huge work load."

The road to the finals

If Kennedy advances to the championship game for the third consecutive season, there's a good chance the Trojans have already played against their future opponent.

The team has put together a handful of quality wins this season, including a 4-0 victory over No. 1 Umpqua Valley Christian (15-4, 6-0), 1-0 vs. No. 4 Dufur (13-1, 7-0), 10-0 vs. No. 9 Knappa (14-3, 13-0) and 10-0 vs. No. 12 Bandon (10-5, 7-0).

After losing 5-4 to Western Christian, the Trojans beat the No. 5 Pioneers (7-4, 7-3) by scores of 15-0 and 13-0. The team's only other loss this year came against Toutle Lake of Washington, in a 5-1 defeat on April 22.

"They have one kids who is going to get drafted in the major league draft, and another kid who is going to commit to Oregon State," Moffatt said. "They loved it. They didn't win the game, but I think they had more fun doing that than most of the games they've won this year."

Kennedy concludes its league schedule with series against Santiam (8-4, 6-3) and Culver (12-5, 8-3) before finishing the season against 3A No. 5 Santiam Christian (11-5, 4-0) and perennial contender Monroe (12-4, 10-0).

" We try to schedule the best teams we possibly can so we can see some good pitching," Moffatt said. "Win or lose, it makes us a little better."

From there, it's off to the races as the OSAA returns to crown a champion for the first time since 2019. Whether Kennedy returns to the championship circle remains to be seen, but there's no doubt the Trojans are on the short list of programs that will vie for the coveted trophy.

By the Numbers

2022 Kennedy baseball

Record: 15-2 (10-1 Special District 2)

OSAA Rank: 2nd

Runs Allowed: 2nd (18)

Runs Scored: 1st (217)

Decade of Excellence

The Kennedy baseball team has qualified for the state playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons. In that span, the Trojans won a state title in 2012, a semifinal appearance in 2018 and consecutive championship appearances in 2019 and 2021.

2011 - Quarterfinals

2012 - State Champions

2013 - Quarterfinals

2014 - Quarterfinals

2015 - First Round

2016 - Quarterfinals

2017 - First Round

2018 - Semifinals

2019 - State Finals

2021 - State Finals


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