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Rough start dooms Challengers in 3A quarterfinals

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Blanchet Catholic uses 9-run first inning to stun No. 1 Cascade Christian

Once the snowball started rolling Friday, it was hard for the Cascade Christian baseball team to stop it.

And because of it, the Challengers were forced to face a monumental task even before getting the chance to swing a bat at Lithia & Driveway Fields.

Ninth-seeded Blanchet Catholic stunned No. 1 seed Cascade Christian with a nine-run top of the first inning and rode the early deluge to a 12-2, five-inning win over the Challengers in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state playoffs.

“It definitely snowballed,” said Cascade Christian third baseman Owen Thompson. “I don’t know … there’s only so much you can say about that. We could have done stuff better or different. Plays could have went different, we could have thrown more strikes. It just sucks.”

What could go wrong did go wrong for the Challengers (23-5) — especially in the first inning.

Three different Cascade pitchers combined to issue eight walks, including five during the fateful first.

The Challengers committed seven errors, three of those coming in the first inning.

All of it amounted to a 31-minute top of the first that, on top of it all, was played under a heavy rain that was originally forecast to end right as the first pitch approached.

“Our biggest Achilles’ heel for this team all year has been pitching and defense,” said Challengers head coach Kevin Shafer. “We ended up walking seven guys, we hit a guy, we committed seven errors, and throughout the season when we’ve done that we were capable of flipping the switch against the teams we were playing and overcoming that. In the playoffs, everybody’s good, everybody’s here for a reason. You play against really good teams, those types of things don’t allow you to win games.”

Cascade Christian starting pitcher Austin Waits never made it out of the first inning, throwing a whopping 71 pitches as he battled to get a third out he was never able to record.

Blanchet Catholic (19-5) held a 2-0 lead two batters into the game after a leadoff triple from pitcher Drew Bartels and a two-run home run to left field by Sam Schindler.

The Cavaliers doubled their lead when Waits issued bases-loaded walks to Landon Gerig and Griffen Mucken, the Nos. 7 and 9 hitters.

Bartels also drew a bases-loaded walk to plate the fifth run of the inning before the Cavaliers capped the inning by taking advantage of a pair of two-out errors by the Challengers, the second coming on a misplayed ball in right-center that should have been the third out but scored the final three runs.

Waits made way for Cole Stofflet after the three-run error made it 9-0. Stofflet was able to get the 15th and final batter to come to the plate in the top of the first to pop out to first base to end the inning.

“It was rough,” said Cascade Christian catcher Triston Wallace, “but I have all the faith in my guys to come back. We’ve come back from a nine-run deficit against Sutherlin, so there’s always that chance that we could do it. We hit the ball well today, but it was just right at people.”

So, what’s the message after seeing Blanchet Catholic score that many runs right out of the chute?

“We just had to battle,” said Thompson. “There’s only so much you can do. You just have to chip away, take better cuts, better ABs, better swings.”

Bartels, a freshman right-hander, proved to be far more crafty than he was overpowering on the mound in limiting Cascade Christian to just four hits in his five-inning complete game. Relying on breaking balls and an ability to move the ball around the strike zone, Bartels also got error-free play from the defense behind him.

The two runs the Challengers got against Bartels came in the bottom of the fourth. Thompson began the inning with a double and then came around to score on Waits’ sharp RBI single to left field. Pinch-runner Cameron Moody later scored on an RBI double into the right field corner by Liam Benade.

Bartels went on to retire the final five batters he faced, including back-to-back strikeouts to ensure things would go no further than five innings. He finished with four strikeouts and issued two walks.

“I think the biggest thing was that he had a nine-run lead,” said Shafer. “If there’s anything that’s going to take the pressure off a freshman, it’s to be up 9-0. I think that was part of it, and we hit some balls really hard. I thought we had some really good at-bats, but it’s the game of baseball and when you get behind and start to press a little bit, the pressure goes from one dugout to our dugout. I thought at times we handled it pretty good, but other times we didn’t.”

Of Cascade Christian’s four hits, three of them were doubles, one each from Benade, Thompson and Cole Shields.

For Blanchet, Schindler finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Carson McNally, another one of the Cavs’ freshmen, finished 2-for-3 and scored a run while Bartels scored three runs out of the leadoff spot.

“I thought we did a good job of trying to chip back,” said Shafer. “We had runners in scoring position with less than two outs in two different innings and didn’t get any runs out of it.”

It was a tough ending to a season in which the Challengers recorded their highest win total since they finished 24-4 and made it to the 3A semifinals in 2015.

“I really give all the credit to the coaches,” said Wallace. “They really put us to work and we all bought in. It was a great season and I can’t wait for next year.”

Blanchet Catholic90300—1270

Cascade Christian00020—247

Bartels and Kowalski; Waits, Stofflet (1), A. Moody (3) and Wallace. W — Bartels. L — Waits. 2B — BC: Schindler, Cuff; CC: Benade, Shields, Thompson. 3B — BC: Bartels. HR — BC: Schindler.

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCascade Christian's Triston Wallace tags out Blanchet Catholic's Riley Pratt in the fourth inning during a Class 3A quarterfinal at Lithia and Driveway Fields in Medford Friday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCascade Christian's Owen Thompson connects for a double in the fourth inning during a Class 3A quarterfinal against Blanchet Catholic at Lithia and Driveway Fields in Medford Friday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCascade Christian's Cole Shields loses his bat from the rain, before hitting a double in the second inning, during a Class 3A quarterfinal against Blanchet Catholic at Lithia and Driveway Fields in Medford Friday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCascade Christian's CJ Bonner catches the ball for an out in the third inning during a Class 3A quarterfinal against Blanchet Catholic at Lithia and Driveway Fields in Medford Friday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCascade Christian's Cole Stofflet delivers a pitch through the rain during a Class 3A quarterfinal against Blanchet Catholic at Lithia and Driveway Fields in Medford Friday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCascade Christian's Cody Reece makes a double-play in the fifth inning against Blanchet Catholic at Lithia and Driveway Fields in Medford Friday.