In 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates powered their way to a World Series championship. Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Manny Sanguillen, Richie Hebner, Al Oliver, and Bob Robertson made a habit of crushing the baseball as the Pirates ran roughshod through the National League, the playoffs and the World Series.
The offensive barrage the Pirates used to do most of their damage earned them the nickname - The Lumber Company.
Coach Rich Reeves' 1996 Lumberjack baseball team followed a similar path. The Jacks could be down 10-0 early and storm back by scalding the baseball to claim the game. It seemed that RAL never lost a game, it just ran out of innings. The 1996 Lumberjacks weren’t shy when it came to getting their cuts. No matter the deficit, these Jacks kept clawing their way back.
Pitching by Jason Schlenker, Jesse Mathews, and Scott Nicholson may have been scuffed up early, but they knew, as did the rest of the rotation, that if they could stop the bleeding, there were some bad dudes carrying bats that would put them right back in the ballgame.
Devin Mackin, Joe Bayless, Kevin McDonald, Matt Fisher, Kelly LaBeau, Sean Marshall, and Mike Lewis, among so many others on the roster, took turns spanking the ball all over the lot and pounding the opposition into submission.
"As the season went along, I think the team got on a roll and gained the confidence that they could beat anyone at any given time," assistant coach Charlie Worley said. "We peaked at the right time and took that momentum into the post season.”
The Jacks got off to what can only be described as a rocky start. After five games, the fellas in red and black were 1-4 overall and 0-3 in league. “Dismal” would be one way to describe the Jacks' play at that point.
Then things changed.
With consistent pitching as a foundation, the Jacks emptied their bat bag and never stopped swinging. By the time Coach Reeves' club reached the Class 2A baseball final four, RAL was 11-3 in the Greater St. Helens League and 18-5 overall.
One reason for the remarkable turnaround may have come from RAL’s April trip to Arizona.
Jammed into vans, the Jacks coalesced into a tidal wave of talent. "A lot of our success has to do with how long we played together," Mathews explained. "Most of our team started playing together since we were nine or ten years old. I live in Tennessee and still stay in touch with almost everyone from that team. It was a special group."
RAL won 2 out of 3 in the Valley of the Sun and kept right on rolling through league and into the playoffs.
RAL faced Centralia in the district title game on May 7 and, as was their wont, the Jacks trailed 5-1 in the sixth. With time fleeting, Kevin McDonald belted a grand slam to deadlock matters and Sean Marshall's pinch-hit put Long ahead 6-5. The Jacks would win 8-5.
At regionals, RAL toyed with Mount Rainier letting the Rams think they would prevail. The Des Moines club led 5-0, 9-5 and 11-9 before bowing to the Jacks 12-11.
McDonald, who cranked out a grand slam at district, did it again against the Rams to knot matters at 9-9. In the seventh, Bayless socked a two-run single and Mackin followed with a hit to score the winning run.
In the regional title game, the Jacks bludgeoned Gig Harbor with a six-run first inning and a five-run sixth. RAL slugged 20 hits led by Fisher's 5-5 game, including a two-run homer and Mackin's 3-4. RAL won 17-12.
In the state semifinals, the Jacks lost a heartbreaker to Blanchet 5-4. Schlenker pitched well, and Nicholson and Mackin had three hits apiece.
And with the wind out of their sails, the Jacks fell to Capital 19-11 in the battle for third and fourth place, but not without a usual comeback. RAL trailed 11-4 heading into the fourth but scored seven times in that inning to even things. Capital, however, had the last volley as it put eight runs on the board in the sixth to win. Fisher had three hits and three RBIs. Mathews and McDonald swatted three hits apiece.
The Jacks finished with an 18-7 (72 percent winning percentage) and a fourth-place trophy.
"The team was just that - a team. We didn't have any real superstars. We had a team that never stopped believing in themselves," Worley added. "I think the '96 team put others on notice that if another team was going to go to the playoffs, they had to go through a tough road and get past the Lumberjacks to get there.”
Head Coach: Rich Reeves
Asst. Coaches: Charley Worley and Wayne Lindeman
Team Roster: Jeremy Huckleberry, Shane Keith, Matt Brown, Jesse Huezo, Michael Bettineski, Jesse Green, Jesse Mathews, Sean Marshall, Kevin McDonald, Matt Fisher, Kelly LaBeau, Scott Nicholson, Devin Mackin, Mike Lewis, Jason Schlenker, and Joe Bayless