When he was putting together his initial football staff at North Medford High, Mike Mitchell put a particularly different spin on his...
It's the little things in a baseball game that often determine whether you walk away with a grin or with a tear in your eye.
On Friday, the little things seemed to escape Cascade Christian's baseball team at every turn, and yet it was an even bigger factor that had them exiting Harry & David Field experiencing both emotions.
Playing in honor of Kristi Higday, the 43-year-old mother of sophomore reserve Eric Higday who succumbed to cancer this past Sunday, the Challengers tried to fight off elimination but ultimately could not in suffering a 2-1 loss to Bandon/Pacific in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
Cascade Christian (23-5) was seeking to defend the 3A title it won a year ago, while Bandon/Pacific (15-7) was hoping to avenge a 5-0 setback against the Challengers during last year's state semifinals.
After allowing an unearned run in the top of the seventh inning to break a 1-all tie, Cascade Christian had runners on third base and second base with no outs but couldn't advance them any further as Tigers ace Mychal Yarbor negotiated three straight strikeouts.
"We had guys on and we had the opportunities," said Challengers sophomore Cody Coggins, who had two of his team's three hits Friday. "We hit a couple balls hard and a couple calls didn't go our way but that's baseball though, any given day you can lose. You've got to give credit to them, they came out and played solid baseball and they were the better team today, there's not much else you can say."
As emotional as it is to fall short of your goal, Coggins summed up the team attitude after the game when he talked of the life lesson brought on by the sudden passing of Kristi Higday, who the team honored by wearing blue armbands and her initials "KH" on their hat. Coggins said the team was able to draw closer to one another in support of the Higday family as her situation grew dire, and losing one of their own definitely brought more perspective for all involved.
"It's tough to walk away like that, it's not the way you want to go out," explained Coggins, "but winning isn't the only thing. It's life. Sometimes you're going to fail in life but you've just got to move on. It really does put a damper on our spirits, but when you put it in perspective, it's just another loss. We've got the rest of our lives, and that's more important."
Kristi Higday had appeared in the prime of her life as she adopted running 5-kilometer races and threw herself into a life of protein shakes, multivitamins and fish oil to be at the top of her game in late January. A first sign of an issue came with some stomach pain and the passing of blood during a Super Bowl party. A gymnastics instructor at America's Best Kids, she got right to the doctor and tests ultimately showed a cancerous mass in her colon and a couple malignant spots on her liver.
Despite the efforts of doctors from Medford to Boston, no true diagnosis or effective medicine could be given to Kristi Higday, whose cancerous areas doubled in size within a week of the first exam and continued to double even through chemotherapy and beyond.
"They do a microscopic screening of the biopsy to determine what kind of cancer it is and normally they have to do around 4-6 of those to determine what it is and they stopped at 26 with her because they couldn't figure out what kind of cancer it was," said her husband, Jim Higday.
In short order, the liver and colon cancer overwhelmed Kristi Higday's body.
"From start to finish it was like 100 days," said Jim Higday, who would've celebrated his 21st wedding anniversary in August. "From feeling above-average, healthy and 135 pounds to then gone from us."
Kristi Higday, whose daughter Meghan is a freshman at Southern Oregon University, underwent a procedure to alleviate an issue brought on by the mass blocking 100 percent of her colon on May 9. She remained hospitalized through May 14, then returned home under hospice care but gradually got worse before passing on Sunday with loved ones on hand at her Medford home.
Her funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Calvary Church in Jacksonville. Donations to support the Higday family can be made at higdayfamilyfund.weebly.com or by using account number 5245489207 at any Wells Fargo Bank location.
"When she first came down with this, we sat down and prayed and said, hey, if we're not going to be able to beat this and it's meant for her to go, we want it to be fast," said Jim Higday. "And it was. We're all just shell-shocked it happened so fast."
Shell-shocked is likely a feeling felt throughout the Challenger faithful again on Friday, with Cascade Christian using a sacrifice fly by Isaiah Luzny to plate Tyler West with the game's first run in the third inning.
Bandon/Pacific, led by Phoenix High graduate Tyler Pendergast, used a leadoff double by Coleton Jackson, a single by Jacob Shamloo and a sacrifice fly by Jon Wilhite to tie the game in the fifth.
That score held up until the seventh when Kyle Ferguson came on in relief of Jordan Ragan and hit Jackson to put the leadoff runner on base. A hard grounder by Derik Cox ricocheted off newly inserted third baseman Matthew Sha and suddenly the Tigers were in business with runner at first and second. Shamloo's ensuing sacrifice bunt was fielded cleanly by Ferguson, who glanced to see if he could get the lead runner before ultimately opting to throw to first base. That throw, however, sailed high and allowed Jackson to score from second base.
"As soon as he threw it he knew," said Cascade Christian head coach John Bruce. "They're kids. They're 16 years old and they get carried away, sometimes it happens."
Ferguson rallied to keep the damage down, getting a huge inning-ending strikeout of Quentin Coomer with the bases loaded. Ferguson then kept his wits about him in the bottom of the seventh when his swinging third strike came on Yarbor's pitch in the dirt and he didn't hesitate to race safely to first base.
Luzny followed with a slow grounder to second base but Ferguson beat the flip to the bag to boost the Challengers' cause. With three chances to get the tying run across by Cascade's Nos. 3-5 hitters, Yarbor simply didn't let it happen as he got called third strikes on each batter.
"He's our No. 1 for a reason and he's been tough every single outing this year," said Pendergast. "We knew that at least he was going to challenge guys. You can accept losing as long as you know you've put your best effort forward."
That same feeling couldn't truly be held in the Challenger dugout, however, as Cascade Christian finished 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position in the quarterfinal and routinely failed to advance runners on bunt attempts.
"The little stuff, we didn't do it," said Bruce. "We could've had a cushion and it would been real simple otherwise. We had five bunt attempts and we couldn't get one down. And they got the one down that they needed. Tyler's got them playing as well as they can play, really. They executed and we didn't, and that's the bottom line."
"We had something going (in the seventh)," added the coach. "All we needed was a seeing-eye groundball somewhere and we're off and running, but we looked at three called strikes from guys that are good hitters. Go figure."
The Challengers previously loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth inning but Yarbor was able to get out of the jam with a strikeout and a little luck on a hard liner by West. On the play, drawn-in second baseman Coomer had the liner fall out of his glove, freezing the runners at each base and West as well, who initially believed the ball had been caught. Coomer eventually threw home and catcher Chance Garrett completed the inning-ending double play with his throw to first base after a late break by West.
"It was not mean to be I guess," said Bruce. "Line drives with bases loaded, balls hit right to people, it could've been 8-1 today, but it wasn't. We hit the ball well and we pitched well with one earned run, I don't know what you say."
Bandon/Pacific 000 010 1 — 2 4 1
Cascade Christian 001 000 0 — 1 3 3
Martino, Yarbor (6) and Garrett; Ragan, Ferguson (7) and Jones. W — Yarbor (9-1). L — Ferguson (2-1). 2B — BP: Jackson.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry