KEIZER — Cascade Christian's celebration was joyful and immediate, although the aftermath of what the Class 3A baseball team had just accomplished left the Challengers a little bewildered by their big moment here Friday.
Shocked player after shocked player roamed around the infield at Volcanoes Stadium, slightly unsure of how to soak in the moment but definitely gleaming with pride on what the Challengers were able to do in their first-ever state championship game.
Buoyed by a solid defensive effort that included the work of four pitchers and several clutch hits, Cascade Christian secured its first baseball state title with a 5-3 win over Santiam Christian in a battle that went down to the wire.
"It was probably the craziest game I've played in my entire life," said sophomore Isaiah Luzny, the last of four Challengers to take the mound. "That was ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it. It was just surreal."
Cascade Christian (24-7) waged a back-and-forth duel with Santiam Christian (26-4) that saw neither team go up by more than one run until Challengers senior Jake Miller broke a 3-all tie in the top of the seventh with a clutch two-out, two-run single to left field.
"That was really sweet," Challengers head coach John Bruce said of Miller's hit on a 2-2 count. "It couldn't happen to a better kid because he's worked hard — so hard — on his hitting because he just wanted it so bad. He fouled off some pitches and finally got a pitch right and took advantage of it."
Miller's big blow followed leadoff singles by sophomore Kyle Ferguson and senior Justin Cheney, and came after Santiam Christian starter Micah Ropp had beared down to strike out junior Tyler West and senior Andrew Sha.
Initially with runners on the corners, Bruce had called for a delayed steal by sophomore Matthew Sha in hopes of maybe sneaking Ferguson home in the confusion. When that didn't pan out and Matthew Sha was allowed to advance to second on catcher's indifference following a second strike to Miller, everything fell on the senior's shoulders.
"He kept throwing me fastballs and I just fouled a couple off and then he hung a curve on me," Miller said of the at-bat. "I honestly was just trying to pull it down the left field line and it just hooked and stayed fair."
The ball landed just in front of a charging JT Wyatt midway into left field, with Ferguson easily scoring and Matthew Sha sliding home before the throw for a 5-3 advantage. It was Miller's second hit — and second and third RBIs of the game — but his immediate focus wasn't on basking in the glory of what he had done.
"I was kinda thinking about going out and playing left field, honestly, because we still had three three outs left to get," said Miller, who Skyped in his baccalaureate speech from the press box after the game. "In the first round we gave up five runs in the last inning and the second round we scored eight in the sixth to win the game, so two runs was nothing against one of the best teams in the state. They have great hitters all around so for me it was all about us having three outs to make still. I was excited but I still had so much to do."
Fortunately for Miller and the rest of the Challengers, Luzny didn't give his teammates much to worry about in the bottom of the seventh. The left-hander induced a quick groundout to the third baseman Ferguson, walked one batter and then got a quick second out on a deep fly ball to Josh Brite in center field.
After that, Luzny threw darts at the plate to strikeout left-hander Caleb Wonsley on four pitches to clinch the victory and set off a flurry of gleeful Challengers.
"That last inning I was just focusing on keeping the ball low, because these guys can hit the ball really well, and try not to walk guys," said Luzny, who entered with two outs and two on in the sixth and stranded both Eagles. "I only walked one, I meant to be a little sharper, but I still go the job done."
"I didn't think we were going to win after they were scoring," he added, "but then we rallied back and I was just shocked to be part of it all."
In truth, several Challengers played a key role in accomplishing the team's goal on Friday.
"The kids were super, they made all the plays and really worked together," said Bruce. "We didn't make any errors, we advanced runners when we needed to and got a couple clutch hits when we needed to against a team that probably beats us six or seven out of 10 times. We had to do it, they were great."
Starting pitcher Daniel Scottow pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits, to keep the Eagles at bay as long as possible. Freshmen Jordan Ragan and Cody Coggins then came in to do their part on the mound against a deep Santiam Christian lineup, coming in to allow only one run and two hits in two innings before handing the ball over to Luzny, who improved his record to 10-1 with the dramatic win.
"It would've been nice to not have to throw him but I figured that was probably a long shot at some point," Bruce said of pitching Luzny, who won Tuesday's semifinal. "Daniel Scottow did a great job going four innings for us. With this lineup and these athletes, that's pretty good in limiting them to just a couple runs. Then Jordan and Cody did just a great job and hung in there and competed and that's all you can ask, win or lose."
It was Bruce's plan all along to go with a pitcher for as long as possible but making sure to get them out before any real damage could be done. In the case of Ragan, it was five pitches over two innings, but the initial job was done to halt a threat in the fourth before giving up a leadoff triple in the fifth to Grant Schroeder. Each change brought about several other changes in defensive alignment, especially when Coggins moved from shortstop, but the Challengers went about things like it was business as usual.
"We knew we've got enough guys who can throw strikes and they compete and they've done a good job all year long," said Bruce. "We don't have anybody whose got 60 innings or more, we've got six or seven guys who can go out there and compete so that was kind of our plan. But if Scottow wanted to throw a shutout that's fine with me, too, that would've been just great."
Scottow was hurt by a leadoff walk to Ropp in the bottom of the second when the Eagles came through with an RBI groundout by Tyler Aldrich to take a 1-0 lead.
The Challengers struck right back in the top of the third when Cheney and West drew leadoff walks and were each sacrificed over 90 feet on a nice bunt by Andrew Sha. Miller responded to the situation with a groundout to second baseman Jeff Hendrix for Cascade's first run, then Coggins sent Ropp's next pitch into center field for an RBI single and 2-1 advantage. Coggins finished 2-for-3 for the game.
Santiam Christian tied it at 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth when Aldrich reached for a single into left field and scored moments later on Tyler Roberts' soaring drive to the left-center gap that dropped in front of a diving Miller.
After Schroeder's triple and an RBI groundout by Alex Hovelsrud, it was Santiam Christian's turn to regroup and take a 3-2 advantage.
That lead, as most on Friday, was short-lived, however, as Cascade Christian struck right back in the top of the sixth with another manufactured run, sparked by a leadoff single by Miller. After Coggins sacrificed him over to second, Luzny sent a liner into center field that scored Miller and tied the game at 3-all.
The Eagles threatened in the bottom of the sixth with two outs when Roberts, who had reached on a fielder's choice, advanced to second on a passed ball with leading hitter Jeff Hendrix up at the plate in a marquee duel with Luzny. Faced with an open base and a 1-1 count against a player batting .505 entering the game, Bruce chose to then intentionally walk Hendrix. The move worked when Luzny induced a flyball out on the next pitch to West in right field.
That left the door open for a fantastic finish in the seventh inning, one Bruce tried to soak in as much as possible.
"It was a good game to watch," said the veteran head coach. "I tried to enjoy it as much myself as I could. Games like this don't happen every day."
Cascade christian Santiam christian
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Miller lf-3b 4 1 2 2 Hendrix 2b 1 0 0 0
Cggins ss-p 3 0 2 2 Andrew 3b 3 0 0 0
Luzny cf-p 3 0 1 1 Schreder ss 4 1 2 0
Brite dh-lf 2 0 0 0 Hovelsrud c 2 0 0 1
Jones c 2 0 0 0 Ropp p 3 1 0 0
Frgson 3b-ss 3 1 1 0 Wonsley 1b 4 0 1 0
Cheney 1b 2 1 1 0 Wyatt lf 3 0 0 0
MSha pr 0 1 0 0 Aldrich dh 3 1 2 1
West rf 2 1 0 0 Richmlth pr 0 0 0 0
ASha 1 0 0 0 Roberts rf 3 0 1 1
Martin ph 1 0 0 0 Dritchas cf 0 0 0 0 Scottow p 0 0 0 0
Ragan p 0 0 0 0
Totals 23 5 7 5 Totals 26 3 6 3
Cascade Christian 002 001 2 —5
Santiam Christian 010 110 0 —3
E—Otis. DP—Santiam Christian 2. LOB—Cascade Christian 3, Santiam Christian 9. 2B—Roberts. 3B—Schroeder. SH—Coggins, Brite, A.Sha. SB—Hendrix. CS—Schroeder
IP H R ER BB SO
Scottow 32/3 4 2 2 4 2
Ragan 1/3 1 1 1 1 0
Coggins 12/3 1 0 0 0 2
Luzny W, 9-1 11/3 0 0 0 2 1
Ropp L 7 7 5 4 3 5
PB—Jones. Umpires—Home, Rob Younger First, Tim Barrett Third, Mark Coursey. T—2:11. A—1,547.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry