Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Before their baseball game on Wednesday, Cascade Christian pitcher Isaiah Luzny told teammate Tristan Jones that he never felt better.
That was great news to Jones — "that got me even more excited," the catcher said — and a horrible omen for Grant Union.
The sophomore pitcher carried a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts before being swapped out in the seventh inning, and the Challengers hung on to beat the Prospectors in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs 6-5 at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Third-seeded Cascade Christian (21-7) next travels to play second-seeded Pleasant Hill (22-4) in the quarterfinals on Friday. The Billies beat Illinois Valley 9-1.
Luzny, who improved to 8-1, allowed just two walks and had sixth-seeded Grant Union (14-10) swinging hopelessly all day long. He proved equally important at the plate, recording the go-ahead RBI single in the fifth inning and adding a run-scoring sacrifice fly an inning later.
"He knows when to turn it on," Jones said of Luzny.
Apparently, so do the Prospectors. They trailed 6-0 entering the top of the seventh, but scored five runs against freshmen relievers Cody Coggins and Jordan Ragan.
"We showed what we are made of," Grant Union head coach Brian Delaney said.
Luzny, who had maxed out his pitch count, could only watch.
"It scared me," he said. "They are a good team. I had a feeling they could come back a little bit."
The Southern Cascade Hybrid champions had their own offensive challenges. The Challengers failed to score with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning and could not bring home Jones after he tripled with two outs in the fourth.
All that changed in the fifth, when Luzny smoked a single down the first-base line to drive in Jake Miller. Josh Brite's RBI double scored Luzny and put Cascade Christian ahead 2-0.
The Challengers tacked on four more runs in the sixth to lead 6-0. In the inning, Kyle Ferguson came home on a bases-loaded walk, Tim Martin scored after a wild pitch, Luzny bashed his RBI sacrifice fly and Andrew Sha chipped in a run-scoring sacrifice bunt that plated Daniel Scottow.
All the while, Luzny was mowing them down on the mound. He didn't allow the hit until the fifth.
"I think I was just focused on my mechanics and concentrating on that," Luzny said. "That was the biggest thing."
But when Luzny handed the ball off, things got interesting. A balk brought home Rayce Houser and Dalton Riemers' two-RBI single made it 6-3.
After that, Ragan replaced Coggins on the mound. He gave up a hit, registered a strikeout, allowed a walk, induced a groundout and then surrendered a two-run double by Jordan Ackerman. But with two outs, Ragan calmly fanned Lane Williams.
"Everybody got a little bit of a workout," Cascade Christian head coach John Bruce said.
Ferguson finished with two hits against the Prospectors, who beat the Challengers twice in state quarterfinal contests, winning 7-6 in 2010 and 13-5 in 2009.
"We knew they would come to play, so we've been focused," Jones said. "We wanted this."
Grant Union 000 000 5 — 5 5 2
Cascade Christian 000 024 x — 6 7 0
Deiter, Thompson (5), Houser (6) and Dehaven; Luzny, Coggins (7), Ragan (7) and Jones. W — Luzny (8-1). L — Thompson (6-2). 2B — GU: Ackerman; CC: Brite. 3B — CC: Jones.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com