Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Overconfident and underwhelming, South Medford made the kind of history no baseball team wants to make Tuesday at Harry & David Field.
At the Panthers' expense, David Douglas became the first team at the Class 6A level in any sport to earn a play-in victory despite being ranked last in the final Oregon School Activities Association power rankings.
The Scots scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning and held on from there to secure an improbable 3-2 road triumph over South Medford, ranked 10th among the state's 42 6A programs in the power rankings and the top-seeded team for the play-in round.
"It's extremely disappointing," said South Medford fourth-year head coach Ray Smith. "I can't put into words how that feels."
David Douglas entered Tuesday's affair having won only three of its 25 games this season under first-year head coach Ryan Miller, but the Scots did just enough to stun their counterparts and earn their first trip to the state playoffs since 2004. David Douglas will open at North Medford, No. 1 in the power rankings, on Monday.
"They came down here and they knew there was absolutely no expectations on them to win so they just came out and had fun," said Miller. "And all of a sudden we get into a ballgame and we made the plays when we had to make them."
"I told my coaching staff on the way down that if we can get into a spot where we're in a one-run game or a tight game late in the game then we've got a chance," added the coach. "It's easy when you're a high school kid to overlook the team that you should beat on paper. We knew that, coming in, if we could get to them early then we were going to give ourselves a chance to hang around."
South Medford (15-11), which finished fourth in the highly-ranked Southern Oregon Hybrid, did everything necessary to help the Scots (4-22) hang around. The Panthers committed three errors, starting pitcher Joe Cooney wasn't at his best and wound up allowing a pair of costly walks and South Medford generally was overzealous at the plate against the underdogs.
Basic pop-ups and fly balls accounted for 12 of the Panthers' 21 outs, and they struck out four times against David Douglas senior right-hander Kyle Patterson.
"There's not a chance in heck that team should've beaten us today, not a chance," said Smith. "I didn't have my players ready to play and I couldn't get them to make the adjustments that we were trying to all day long. Any team in the state of Oregon can catch easy fly balls, and we made it easy for them."
"We just didn't do the things that we worked on in practice about pitch selection and discipline at the plate," he added. "We swung at 2-0 pitches, 3-1 pitches that were out of the strike zone. Ultimately that comes down to the coach not having his team prepared to play. We worked on it hard all week, but when it comes game time it comes time to execute those things that you practice. When you don't get it done, that's disappointing. I'm not disappointed in the kids, but I'm certainly not happy with the way we executed in certain situations."
South Medford opened the scoring in the first inning when Jimmy Sporer reached on a bunt single, stole second base and moved to third on a groundout by Pat Alexander. The leadoff batter scored moments later on a wild pitch to Cooney.
David Douglas answered with the bottom part of its lineup when Patterson — the No. 8 hitter — drew a one-out walk in the third and moved to third when No. 9 hitter Justin Tomiak slipped a ball down the third base line for a double. Tyson Walker followed with an RBI single, then the Scots successfully pulled off a double steal and Tomiak slid in safely on a play at home plate.
"When we went up 2-1, we knew we had a chance at this," Patterson said.
The Panthers evened the score in the bottom half of the inning when White reached on an error at third by Nate Lampert to open the frame. The junior catcher then deftly avoided a tag for a stolen base and moved to third base on another wild pitch by Patterson before scoring on a groundout by Sporer.
South erased a scoring chance by the Scots after Lampert slapped a double down the right-field line that found him standing on third after a misplay by Brady Breeze allowed the ball to roll to the fence. Lampert later gambled with a hard charge down the line on a pitch and was caught in a pickle for the second out. On the next pitch, Brandon Tomiak singled to center field.
In the fifth, a leadoff walk to Patterson again spelled trouble. He moved to second on an errant pickoff attempt by Cooney, then scored when Justin Tomiak's sacrifice bunt to third baseman Forrest Pierson was thrown wide of first baseman Nate Walker.
The Panthers' best chance to tie the score came in the bottom of the sixth when Eric Wallan singled into the hole on the left side of the infield and moved to second on a throwing error by shortstop Spencer Raethke.
With two outs, Cooney hit a sharp single to Walker in center field. Smith held up Wallan at third base on the hit but as he retreated to the bag and looked for the ball, Walker's throw home sailed well wide of catcher Robert Pate. Wallan made a late break home but didn't see that Patterson had backed up the throw near the backstop, and his relay to Pate was in plenty of time to tag Wallan for the third out despite an acrobatic attempt to avoid it.
"He did what I asked but then the ball gets thrown away there and with all the crowd and everybody he's hearing 'Go, go, go,' instead of 'No, no, no,' and so he takes off," said Smith. "Ultimately that's my fault. I should've been the only guy he heard. I'm pretty confident in that situation with Nate at the plate that he's going to give me a good at-bat so that's what I was holding him for. Was I thinking about sending him, absolutely, but the ball was hit so hard that (Walker) makes even a decent throw there and he's out by five steps."
Brandon Lupton gave the Panthers some hope with his second hit of the game — a two-out double down the left field line in the bottom of the seventh — but was stranded when Patterson struck out White to end the game.
David Douglas 002 010 0 — 3 5 2
South Medford 101 000 0 — 2 5 3
Patterson and Pate; J. Cooney and White. W — Patterson. L — J. Cooney (2-5). 2B — DD: J. Tomiak, Lampert; SM: Lupton.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry