DALLAS -- It's taken a while, but the Dallas American Legion baseball team is beginning to hit its stride.
"We started off sort of not-too-great," pitcher Brett Brunner said July 7 after Dallas swept a double-header from the visiting Eugene All-Stars. "But the last four games we've really been tearing it up. Really, the key has been pitching. Our pitching's been pretty tough, and we've played pretty good defense. We haven't been compounding things."
Dallas (8-12 overall) beat Eugene 6-3 in game one behind a complete-game five-hitter from Travis Keen, who struck out eight. Dallas jumped to a sizable lead in the second game before holding on for a 9-8 decision and a four-game winning streak.
Jared Smith has been the team's hottest hitter of late with 10 hits in his past 11 at-bats. Pitcher Adam Owens and center fielder Marcus Gillette also have played well.
Jordan Pratt had a three-run double in the nightcap against Eugene, and Scott Stefani finished with three hits.
Brunner started on the mound in the second game and lasted six innings on a warm, sunny day. Joey Briggs pitched the seventh.
Eugene came within an eyelash of tying the score in the top of the seventh. With one out and a runner on third, a Eugene batter chopped a grounder to the right side.
Stefani threw to Brunner, now at first, for the second out of the inning. The runner on third belatedly broke for home, and Brunner's throw to catcher Josh Brandt was just in time for the game-ending out.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Brandt, one of three Central imports playing for the Dallas team. "At the beginning of the season, we had a lot of guys gone for football camps and stuff like that. Now we've got all of our players back, and we're starting to play much better.
"We're playing a lot more aggressively than we were at the beginning. We're playing better on defense, and our offense is a lot better. Now, we go up there expecting to get hits. It's changed so much. We were only getting four or five hits a game at the beginning."
The slow start has left Dallas in the middle of its eight-team league, but that's of little or no consequence. All eight teams will play in the league's postseason tournament, which starts July 25. The top three teams from that event will advance to the state tournament.
"In June, we had people off playing football and basketball," Dallas coach Scot McDonald said. "We never had our full team there, basically. My goal was to get kids innings in and then wait until July to get ready for the playoffs. That's where we're headed.
"We lost a few games early that we probably could have won. Again, we're outmanned by about every team we play against. These are all all-star teams, so I don't feel too bad."
Dallas is getting some help from Central's Brandt, Pratt and Dylan Herbert. Although Dallas and Central aren't exactly archrivals, it took some time before the players from the two schools were comfortable sitting on the same bench.
"It was kind of weird at the beginning, but it changed after a while," Brandt said. "It wasn't too bad. It just took a while because we didn't know what to expect. We didn't know how they practiced and stuff.
"It's been a lot of fun. They were happy we were coming over to play with them. It's been good for us because this is a lot better competition than A legion or even 3A ball for high school."
Initially, the Dallas players didn't know what to expect from their Central compatriots, either.
"At the beginning, it was kind of tough," Brunner said. "There was a lack of communication between us and the Central guys. The only time's we played with them before, we were playing against them. We never liked seeing them succeed before.
"Josh is a good player, and Dylan has come up with some big plays for us. Pratt has been a good utility guy for us, and he's even pitched some. They haven't hurt us. That's for sure."