Challengers fall short in title game
KEIZER — As the sun came down here at Volcanoes Stadium Friday evening, the heads wearing Cascade Christian baseball caps remained high in the air.
While the ultimate goal of a second Class 3A state championship in three years had just eluded the disappointed Challengers, they had no qualms facing the reality of the situation as Glide celebrated a 7-2 triumph across the way.
"They're a good team and every time we play them it's always a hard-fought battle," said Cascade Christian senior Kyle Ferguson, whose team had split with Glide in two games entering Friday's finale. "Today just wasn't our day. Everything went there way and you just have to respect that."
Glide managed at least one hit in each inning and broke open a one-run contest in the seventh inning with a five-run outburst that left the final score not really indicative of the true action.
"I just tip my hat to the Challengers because they're a class act and a good group of kids and a good group of coaches," said Glide head coach Al Skinner. "I'm happy for them and just sorry it had to end that way for them, but either way somebody was going to win or lose today."
On this day, the visiting Wildcats (25-3) definitely deserved the win.
Left-handed pitcher Tylan Dubois handcuffed the Challengers (23-6) over six innings, allowing only four hits and two runs — none earned — with two strikeouts and one walk. Fellow junior southpaw Jacob Fricke came on in the seventh to close out the contest, getting a fitting game-ending double play off a diving grab by newly inserted first baseman Tanner Shaddy on a hot liner by Dalton Palmer.
"When a team makes plays like they did today, they deserve to win," said Cascade Christian head coach Nate Mayben. "Plain and simple, they played outstanding defense and took away about four or five hits from us. That last one just kind of put an exclamation point on that on how they won the game."
The Challengers played from behind throughout the contest after Glide scratched for a pair of runs off Ferguson with three of the Wildcats' 13 hits in the first inning.
Cascade Christian put runners on the corners in the bottom half of the first before being denied — a common occurrence Friday.
Even when the Challengers finally broke through to trim their deficit to 2-1 in the third inning on consecutive singles by Ferguson and Cooper Clark, the latter was picked off first base for the second out of the inning.
A sensational backhanded play by shortstop Cory Finlay led to a key first out at second base on a fielder's choice in the sixth inning, then Shaddy made a diving grab of a liner to center field by Cody Coggins for the second out to keep Cascade Christian at bay.
"When that stuff happens, you've just got to tip your hat," said Mayben. "They stopped all our rallies from happening. We had the opportunities, and we hit the ball hard at times, but they got us out."
Ferguson and company did likewise after the first inning, although Glide applied considerably more pressure. Senior catcher Tristan Jones threw out a runner trying to steal second base in the second inning, and Ferguson buckled down to get out of a jams with two runners on in the third and fourth innings before needing Coggins' help in relief to get a third out after a double by Dubois in the fifth.
"If we could've gotten a key hit here or there when we had guys on base it may have made the pressure a little bit less on us," said Skinner, "but our kids didn't overreact. They really held their composure well and they didn't get down when they didn't get a hit or we didn't score runs. We just went back out and tried to throw the ball and play defense behind our pitcher."
The floodgates finally opened in the top of the seventh when, after Coggins got a strikeout, Shaddy walked and scored on an RBI triple to the gap by Finlay, who was 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs. With Coggins running on fumes after pitching Tuesday's semifinal win over Horizon Christian, the Challengers went to Will Weaver and Glide switched things up with an immediate suicide squeeze bunt for a 4-1 lead with everyone safe on the play.
A bobbled grounder by Clark at second base allowed runners to remain safe at first and second, then another bunt single loaded the bases with no attempt on an out. Weaver managed a strikeout but couldn't stop the Wildcats' momentum as Kevin Beard slapped an RBI single and Joe Hanson added a two-run single to make it 7-1 before the Challengers finally got their third out.
An uphill battle in the bottom of the seventh was offset by immediate hope when Weaver lined a single to center field and James Carpenter was hit by a pitch to follow. Enter Fricke, Glide's top pitcher, who induced a fielder's choice by Eric Higday that got the lead out at second base but allowed Higday to race to second on a throwing error during a double-play attempt.
Weaver scored on the error to make it 7-2, and a throwing error by third baseman Bryson Belloir on Matthew Sha's grounder put runners on the corners with only one out. That's when Palmer stepped up and laced a shot toward right field that was cut off on Shaddy's dive. Shaddy, who moved to first when Fricke went to the mound, immediately popped up and tagged a helpless Sha for the final out.
Ferguson finished 2-for-3 with one run to pace his team at the plate, and allowed one earned run on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings. Although disheartened by a season-ending loss, Ferguson echoed the sentiments of many on the team after the postgame ceremonies.
"This season was one of our greatest seasons by far," said the senior. "A lot of people counted us out after we lost two guys and thought we didn't really have a pitching staff or anything, but a lot of us just stepped up this year. I'm so proud of my team and everything we've accomplished this year. It was a struggle to get here but we got here."
Mayben agreed that his team accomplished a lot in his first season at the helm.
"The whole thing through our playoff run was enjoy the moment, and I think we really did," he said. "You get to this point and you want to win, and then you don't win and you get emotional. You don't get emotional because you lost, you get emotional because you know it's over. But for these guys and for all of us, another door will open and life continues."
"I'm just proud of the effort," added Mayben. "They worked hard and deserved to be where they were at."
The Challengers certainly held the respect of Skinner, who was full of praise for Friday's opponent.
"I have the utmost respect for Nate and his staff," said the Glide coach. "I know it's Nate's first year there but I've known everybody on their staff for a long time and I respect them as men first, and their kids are always quality kids. It makes it fun being able to play against somebody that you enjoy competing against because you know at the end of the day, win, lose or draw, you can hold your head high."
Glide (25-3) cas. christian (23-6)
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Freeman 2b 5 1 1 0 Frguson ss/p 3 1 2 0
Shddy cf/1b 2 1 0 0 Clark 2b 3 0 1 1
Finlay ss 4 2 3 2 Cggins ss/p 3 0 0 0
Dubois p/cf 4 1 2 1 Jones c 2 0 0 0
Fricke 1b/p 4 1 1 1 Weaver lf/rf 3 1 1 0
Belloir 3b 4 1 2 0 Crpenter dh 2 0 0 0
WBeard lf 3 0 1 0 Higday 1b 3 0 0 0
KBeard c 4 0 1 1 Sha 3b/lf 3 0 0 0
Hanson rf 3 0 2 2 Palmer cf 3 0 0 0
Totals 33 7 13 7 Totals 25 2 4 1
Glide 200 000 5 —7
Cascade Christian 001 000 1 —2
E—Freeman 2, Finlay, Belloir, Clark, JonesDP—Glide 1. LOB—Glide 9, Cascade Christian 4. 3B—Finlay. SB—Freeman, Finlay, Coggins. CS—Hanson. S—W. Beard.
IP H R ER BB SO
Dubois W,10-1 6 4 2 0 1 2
Fricke 1 0 0 0 0 0
Ferguson L,8-3 42/3 7 2 1 1 3
Coggins 12/3 2 2 2 1 2
Weaver 2/3 4 3 2 0 1
WP—Dubois. HBP—by Ferguson (T. Shaddy), by Dubois (J. Carpenter). WP—Dubois. Umpires—Home, Dominick Longbucco First, Alex Chavez Third, Lynn Williams. T—1:52. A—1,126.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry