Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
In a game full of big hits, Cascade Christian got the final one.
Cody Coggins' run-scoring triple in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted the Challengers to a 10-9 victory over Horizon Christian of Tualatin in the Class 3A state baseball semifinals at U.S. Cellular Community Park Tuesday.
Cascade Christian (23-5) advances to the title game for the second time in three years. The Challengers, who defeated Santiam Christian 5-3 for the crown in 2012, play Glide, a 3-0 winner over Valley Catholic in the other semifinal game, at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer at 5 p.m. Friday.
Cascade Christian fell behind 4-0 and trailed 7-2 after four innings. The teams combined for 26 hits.
"I think there was something more here than us," said Cascade Christian first-year coach Nate Mayben of his team's comeback. "We made more mistakes defensively than we had all year but the boys never stopped fighting. To win games like this, you have to have a little luck."
Trailing 8-6 in the bottom of the sixth, the Challengers scored three runs to take their first lead of the game.
Tristan Jones started the rally with a bouncer over the head of third baseman Mitch Sheldon for a one-out single. Will Weaver was hit by a pitch and James Carpenter walked to load the bases. Relief pitcher Trent Pihas threw a wild pitch on a 2-1 count to Eric Higday, scoring pinch runner Trenton Palmer from third. Then Higday smacked a two-run single to center field on Pihas' next offering to put the Challengers ahead 9-8.
"With a 3-1 count, it shrinks the zone down to the perfect pitch you want and he gave it to me," explained Higday, who was hitless in his three previous at-bats. "I knew I was due for a hit."
But what really put the Challengers back in the game was a four-run outburst after two were out and they trailed 7-2 in the fifth. Matthew Sha, a left-handed No. 8 hitter, sliced a bases-loaded double down the left-field line to score all three runs. Dalton Palmer followed with an RBI single to cut the Hawks' lead to 7-6. That was the last batter for Horizon starter Colton Cosner.
"We were in rough spot," said the senior Sha. "I was trying to stay relaxed and hit the ball the way I needed to. I didn't really do anything different."
Horizon Christian (25-5), the 2011 champion and last year's state runner-up, came back to tie the score 9-all in the seventh off Cascade reliever Kyle Ferguson. Pihas walked to begin the inning, moved to second on a groundout, stole third and scored on a wild pitch.
Ferguson, who entered the game with two out in the sixth and struck out Nate McGill with the bases loaded to end the inning, then gave up a double to Kyle Esquerra and hit Colton Cosner. Camden Muller reached on a fielder's choice for the second out.
With runners on first and third, Muller broke for second. Ferguson stepped off the mound, calmly looked Esquerra back to third and ran Muller toward the bag at first. Ferguson tossed the ball to Higday, who applied the tag to end the threat.
"This is something we practice all the time," said Ferguson, who had two hits and scored one run. "I didn't want to throw it away, so I just ran him back and flipped it to first."
In the bottom of the inning, senior Cooper Clark walked with one out and Coggins, the next batter, rapped a hard drive in the right-center field gap to score Clark from first.
"As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in the gap," said Coggins, "and I was just hoping Cooper got a good jump. When I looked up at second, I saw Cooper rounding third and knew we were going to win the game."
Coggins had a rough outing on the mound against the hard-hitting Hawks. The junior pitcher surrendered 14 hits and hit four batters but only allowed three earned runs
"That's the first time I've been hit that hard this year," said Coggins. "And we had some uncharacteristic mistakes that we don't usually have."
Mayben credited the Hawks with good hitting against his ace.
"Horizon can hit the baseball with any team in the state," said Mayben. "They have a good approach at the plate. When (Coggins) left the ball up, they made him pay. He battled on the hill and just gutted it out."
The Hawks received three hits from Muller and two hits each from Chase Cosner, Esquerra, Colton Cosner, Weston Groth and Samson Schweiger.
Dalton Palmer, Coggins and Jones also collected two hits apiece for the Challengers.
This was the final game for Horizon Christian coach Alex Esquerra, who started the program seven years ago. Esquerra has guided the Hawks into the state playoffs for five straight years.
"In championship games, you've got to close the door when you've got teams down," said Esquerra, whose team rallied from five-run deficits in its previous two wins. "Cascade is a good team. That's why they're where they're at. One key element of baseball is clutch hitting. And they did it to us today."
Horizon Christian 004 301 1 — 9 15 0
Cascade Christian 002 043 1 — 10 11 2
Co. Cosner, Pihas (5) and Muller; Coggins, Ferguson (6) and Jones. W — Ferguson (8-2). L — Pihas. 2B — HC: Muller, Esquerra; CC: Jones, Sha. 3B — HC: Muller; CC: Coggins.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480, or email firstname.lastname@example.org