Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Will the third time be the charm for Cascade Christian?
Head baseball coach John Bruce and his Challengers sure hope so.
Cascade Christian will take on a familiar sports foe — nemesis Santiam Christian — in Friday's Class 3A state championship game at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
This past fall, the Eagles beat the Challengers 56-36 in the 3A state football semifinals. In the winter, Santiam Christian defeated Cascade Christian 48-39 in the 3A state basketball quarterfinals.
And now here they are in the spring, facing each other on the grandest of stages.
"Those are good people up there and we know them well," Bruce said. "They are good folks and have terrific athletic programs and a good school, and so do we."
The Challengers, the Southern Cascade Hybrid champions, are 23-7 overall. They opened the season 5-5 with losses to South Umpqua, North Valley, Yreka (Calif.) and twice to Horizon Christian before catching fire, winning seven straight and 18 of their next 20.
This is Cascade Christian's first appearance in the finals. Before their 5-0 win over Bandon/Pacific on Tuesday, the Challengers had not reached the semifinals since 2000, when they lost to Glendale 3-1 in the 2A/1A tournament.
"I thought we had a chance of being a good team," Bruce said. "We didn't have a lot of seniors, but we had kids who have been in the playoffs the last few years. It's a good balance of kids and I think it was a matter of gaining experience and getting games under their belts. It took 10 or a dozen games to realize what we needed to do. The kids have worked at it and you've got to get some good bounces along the way."
Bruce said he is leaning toward starting junior Daniel Scottow on the mound in the title contest. Sophomore Isaiah Luzny, the team's ace, started in Cascade Christian's first-round and semifinal victories and owns 13 shutout innings this postseason.
Scottow, who is 4-0, recorded a 2.20 ERA with 29 strikeouts and six walks in 28 innings during the regular season. He received the start and was one of four pitchers used in the Challengers' 8-6 quarterfinal victory over Pleasant Hill on Friday.
"Daniel has experience the last couple of years and he wants to throw," Bruce said. "So we'll see. We're still talking about it."
Luzny has been a standout on the mound and at the plate. The left-hander is currently 9-1 with a 0.64 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 54.1 innings. He led the team in batting average (.440) and RBIs (21).
Josh Brite (.429, 12 RBIs) and Luke Dusenbury (.400, 15 RBIs) also played key offensive roles for Cascade Christian this spring.
Meanwhile, Santiam Christian (26-3) is shooting for its fourth state championship, having previously won titles in 1999, 2004 and 2010. The Eagles finished second to Pleasant Hill — a team that the Challengers defeated twice this year — in the PacWest Conference.
Pitcher Jeff Hendrix, who has signed at Oregon State to play baseball, is 6-1 with a 1.19 ERA. At the plate, he hit .505 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs. In his team's 6-0 semifinal victory over Burns on Tuesday, Hendrix pitched a shutout and had three hits.
Micah Ropp, a second-team all-state selection, will start the championship game for Santiam Christian.
Grant Schroeder is also batting better than .500 this year.
The Eagles went undefeated at the Salt River Baseball Classic in Arizona and opened their season on a 17-game winning streak. Santiam Christian's only losses came against Blanchet Catholic, Creswell and Pleasant Hill.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com