Abbott Haffar says coming back to the Corvallis Knights for another summer of collegiate wood bat baseball was an easy choice.
The UC Riverside pitcher quickly noted the opportunity to play for a coaching staff that includes head coach Brooke Knight and assistants Ed Knaggs, Youngjin Yoon and Kellen Camus as a big plus. And the assembled roster was a collection of players he enjoyed spending time with.
“It’s a special group of guys. There’s nothing like it,” Haffar said. “People say it’s just summer ball. It’s more than that. You make different relationships, you meet different people. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
The players credit ability but also a bond of friendship and chemistry that took them out on top.
Haffar and the Knights defeated Victoria 11-1 on Sunday to finish the team’s fourth consecutive West Coast League baseball championship.
The Knights, who have won six titles total in a stretch of making the playoffs in 13th straight seasons, have made Corvallis a popular destination for those looking for a place to bridge the gap to fall ball once school starts up again.
On the field, Corvallis has talent to match any other in the 12-team WCL.
The Knights set a new league record with 42 regular-season wins in a 54-game schedule. They finished with 54 victories in all, tying a team mark.
“We had a lot of skillful players this year, and it would have been really easy for everybody to just kind of do their own thing,” said pitcher Tevita Gerber, a Dixie State left-hander and a leading candidate for the WCL’s pitcher of the year award. “Everybody came together and we were all on the same page. I’ve never been a part of anything like this team and it was awesome.”
The Knights, with club CEO Dan Segel and coach Knight leading the way in recruiting, find team-first players who fit the mold.
Potential players have to fit in as well as have the skills to join what has become the league’s top program.
“We were really athletic and talented,” Brooke Knight said of this summer’s squad. “But really a bunch of good guys. Team-oriented guys, they were looking out for each other.”
The Knights had a dominant offense but also a pitching staff that more than held its own.
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Gerber won a WCL-best nine games, including the postseason opener at Walla Walla in the South Divisional Series and the season finale, game 3 versus Victoria.
Gerber was working on short rest when he started Sunday’s game with the season on the line. He admits he was nervous being in such a big moment.
“There’s always nerves going into a big game like that,” he said. “But it’s how you’re able to handle it and use it to your ability.”
David Watson, Jackson Arnsdorf, Brodie Cooper-Vassalakis and Timothy Josten also had good results on the mound as starters, along with Connor Knutson, Marques Johnson, William Kempner and Haffar, among others, in relief.
The Corvallis offense showed the ability to catch fire, led by the WCL’s top three batters by average in the regular season in Jake Holcroft (.368), Briley Knight (.357) and Brooks Lee (.342).
Holcroft set league records for hits and at-bats (223). Knight, a Crescent Valley High grad who will be a sophomore at the University of Utah this fall, had a strong all-around summer and could be in the running for WCL most valuable player.
Andy Atwood, Michael Curialle, Matthew Gretler, Jake Harvey, Zack Moeller and Nick Yovetich all put up solid offensive numbers and were regular contributors. Gretler and Harvey are Oregon State players.
Briley Knight, the coach’s son, said the team was “together” as a unit and that he’ll invite every single teammate to his wedding.
He was much more involved in this summer’s championship season than last year, which he says made a 2019 title mean a lot more to him personally.
“I learned a lot my freshman year at Utah,” he said. “Matured on the field, off the field, and went with the mindset into this summer that I’m good enough. I’ve just got to compete.”
Curialle said the team was full of “gamers” that just wanted to win every single day. The Knights did plenty of winning, taking 28 of 29 games in one stretch, including 24 of 25 league contests.
Corvallis took a seven-game winning streak into the postseason before coming through when forced to the third and deciding game in both their playoff series.
“This group was really tight all year,” Curialle said. “We played for each other and that’s how you get wins.”