Crusaders advance to 3A quarterfinals
St. Mary's junior baseball standout Joe Johnson has looked around the gymnasium and at the trophy cases in his school, and he's seen his classmates win state team titles throughout the year — girls cross country, boys basketball, girls golf.
Trust him when he says he's well-versed in Crusader athletic history. More than anything, he'd like to add to it.
"Up in our gym we have a lot of banners because we've been around a long time, but the last baseball banner was in 1982," he said. "It's been awhile. We've been trying to build a program and we have a great coach."
His fourth-seeded squad beat No .13 Nyssa, 11-3, in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs at St. Mary's High on Wednesday, getting the Southern Cascade League player of the year and his teammates one step closer to their shot at a crown.
Behind fourth-year coach Sean Gallagher, the Crusaders (26-1) have now advanced to the quarterfinals the last three springs. St. Mary's will host fifth-seeded Horizon Christian (17-5) in the round of eight at 4 p.m. Friday.
Horizon Christian beat No. 12 Harrisburg, 2-0, in its first-round game.
Consistent for the Crusaders on Wednesday was senior pitcher Jose Perez, who improved to 12-1 after allowing five hits, three runs (two unearned) and one walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. He was 3-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs at the plate. Travis Danielson went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs.
"He really kept us in the game," Gallagher said of Perez.
A nightmarish fourth inning for the Bulldogs (14-16) also assisted in St. Mary's securing its fifth straight triumph. The Crusaders, tied at 2 with two outs in the fourth, scored seven more runs in the frame to run away.
The 2-all game suddenly came undone as Brady Robison absorbed a collision with Nyssa catcher Blake Cleaver and scored from third base on a bases-loaded wild pitch. St. Mary's then tacked on three more runs when, with Johnson batting, a third strike got away from Cleaver. His throw to first base was errant, bringing home Ty Mulholland, Ben Robinson and Bryce Bramscher.
"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," Gallagher said.
Another costly wild pitch and RBI singles by Perez and Danielson made it 9-2.
Nyssa had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth on two Crusader errors.
Daniel LaFond's run-scoring single in the second inning gave the Crusaders the first lead of the contest.
"We had a 12-day layoff and knew we would be a little flat with the bats, and that was the case," Gallagher said. "We started off slow but Jose Perez just kept sitting them down and eventually the bats came around."
Perez said his outing felt good.
"I just felt like my curveball was working well," he said. "I just dropped it into the strike zone and kept them off-balance."
Johnson said his team did an excellent job of capitalizing on opportunities Wednesday.
"We just take advantage of every mistake the defense or pitcher gives us," he said. "Every time we’d start off with a walk, we'd string in a couple hits. We just rally off mistakes or just get big hits."
Thompson, Gonzalez (4), Melendez (6) and Cleaver; Perez, Johnson (7) and Mulholland. W — Perez (12-1). L — Thompson. 2B — N: Avant, Cleaver, Thompson.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt