Last week, I sat down with Terry Stephenson for an interview about his decision to retire and we talked about his 32 years here in Philomath. As I do these interviews and talk to people about their lives, there are always those moments that occur to send someone in a particular direction.
Terry certainly had more than one of those moments, but the one that stands out to me was the day he learned he had no college eligibility remaining to play baseball at Oregon State. As those circumstances played out, he ended up working as a graduate assistant under then-coach Jack Riley. An education that led to him becoming a teacher and coach followed and his impact on students I’m sure has been huge over the past three-plus decades.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the baseball team’s records. In Stephenson’s first spring, Philomath broke the school record for most wins in a season with players like Geoff Grass, Kyle Burt, Greg Yechout and Frankie Hernandez in uniform. The team ended up falling in the first round of the AA state playoffs to Creswell.
Through Stephenson’s years, the deepest run that the Warriors made in the state playoffs occurred in 2000. Stephenson was named the ValCo League’s coach of the year that season and he had a lot of talent on the diamond.
The league’s player of the year, Brandon Starwalt, was on that roster, along with standouts such as J.J. Faxon, Shane Lear, Lew England, Brad Baldwin, Jeremy Kerst and Pat Douglass.
The Warriors opened with a 7-5 win over Elmira, scoring all seven runs in one inning, with Starwalt holding the Falcons to two hits and one run after the third.
One of the most memorable wins in program history followed in the quarterfinals. Going up against No. 1 The Dalles, Faxon hit a one-out single in the bottom of the seventh to drive in Starwalt from second to give the Warriors a 5-4 win. Baldwin was the winning pitcher, holding the Indians to six hits in a complete-game performance.
In the semifinals, Philomath beat North Marion, 11-3 with Starwalt on the mound and Kerst hitting a home run among the team’s 11 hits. In the championship game, Mazama took a 9-2 victory.
Philomath ended up with an overall record of 26-3, a season that included a 20-game winning streak during one stretch.
“They’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Stephenson said after the game. “It’s been a great season. We only scored two runs today, but those kids never quit.”