Chieftains wrest away Sunset League crown
ROGUE RIVER — Resiliency took Rogue River far this season.
On Tuesday, it helped the Chieftains capture the Sunset League title in the regular-season finale.
Rogue River mustered an answer to every Cascade Christian rally to wrest away a 12-10 victory at home in a showdown between the league's top two teams that featured four lead changes and dramatics throughout.
"We never stop fighting," Rogue River coach John White said. "This team does not give up, ever."
Rogue River senior first baseman Kelly White, the coach's son, led the Chieftains by going 2-for-4 with five RBIs on senior day.
His three-run home run to left field in the bottom of the fourth helped Rogue River (18-6, 13-1 Sunset) recapture the lead after squandering a 5-0 advantage after the first inning to the Challengers (16-8, 12-2).
He added a go-ahead two-run double in the sixth.
The win secures Rogue River's first league title since winning the Skyline Conference championship in 2005. The Chieftains are in their first season in Class 3A and will host a first-round playoff game next Tuesday against the PacWest Conference's No. 4 seed, to be determined this week.
Rogue River lost 8-4 in the opener of its last playoff appearance in 2005.
"It means a lot," Kelly White said of the league title. "Our last league championship was 2005, and that was my eighth-grade year. I was here a lot. Seeing the fun those guys were having kind of made me want to experience that."
"We weren't really sure coming into the new league how we would stack up," he added. "But we met all of our expectations and more than that."
White was part of a productive top half of the lineup for Rogue River.
Leadoff hitter Brendan Schoner was 3-for-4 with three runs scored, No. 2 hitter Craig Lee was also 3-for-4 with one RBI and three runs scored and Tom Cermak, the No. 5 hitter, was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and one run scored.
White, who hits third, scored three runs.
"It's been that way all year," coach White said. "Our top four guys have given us just a ton."
The Chieftains opened a 5-0 lead in the first inning and looked as if they might run away with it. Schoner doubled to left, Lee drove him home with a single to right and White reached on an error at third. Christian Reyes followed with an RBI single, Cermak walked and Michael Freitas hit a two-run double against Cascade Christian starter Colton Cochran.
"They are a great hitting team, and they showed it tonight," Cascade Christian coach Don Binkley said. "We just left our pitches up."
The Challengers responded with seven runs in the fourth to pull in front. Wes Litton, who was 3-for-4 with three RBIs, started the inning with a single and stolen base. He scored on Ryder West's single and West scored on a two-out bloop single by Jake Miller.
After a Cochran single and two errors — one resulting in a score — Garrett Banks hit a two-run single and Litton hit a two-run double to cap the inning.
And back-and-forth they went.
"We battled back every time," Binkley said. "We play another two innings and maybe we win this game. I was extremely proud of them and they've worked hard all year."
Schoner and Lee hit back-to-back singles in the fourth before White's home run, his second of the year, helped Rogue River take an 8-7 lead.
"I've had problems not being able to relax," Kelly White said. "I just went up there and decided I was going to have fun."
Cascade Christian put two on after a walk and an error in the sixth. Banks followed with an RBI double and scored on Litton's single to left to put the Challengers in front 9-7.
Banks finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored.
Schoner and Lee again recorded consecutive singles to start another rally in the sixth. White followed with a two-run double off the wall in left. The RBIs were White's 35th of the season and 100th of his career.
Cermak added a two-run single later in the inning to push the lead to 12-9.
The excitement continued into the seventh with Rogue River dropping two catchable foul balls and committing its fifth error of the game, which led to a Cascade Christian run.
But Reyes, who went the distance for Rogue River, struck out Cascade Christian's Taylor Thomas to end the game.
Reyes threw more than 115 pitches entering the seventh inning, but White was confident in his ace. Reyes finished with five strikeouts and two walks.
"We started the year without too much in the way of experience pitching, and Christian has just been a horse for us," coach White said. "He works harder than anybody I've ever had. That's why we were so comfortable with him throwing into the seventh. He's done the work to allow him to do that."
Cochran went four innings for the Challengers and was relieved by Ryan Pech.
The Challengers host the Bandon-Myrtle Point winner on Friday to determine the Sunset's No. 2 seed, which would host the West Valley Conference's No. 3 seed next Tuesday. The Sunset's No. 3 seed travels to face the Lewis & Clark No. 1 seed in the Class 3A playoff opener.
The Chieftains won both games against the Challengers this season, using a four-run rally in the sixth inning to win 7-5 on April 24.
"This is huge," Cermak said of the win. "It really gives us confidence going into the playoffs. It just puts us on the map in the state, too."
Cascade Christian 000 702 1 — 10 9 1
Rogue River 500 304 x — 12 12 5
Cochran, Pech (5) and Spence; Reyes and Garwood. W — Reyes. L — Cochran. 2B — CC: Banks; RR: Schoner, Freitas, White. HR — RR: White (2).
Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail email@example.com