Baseball Championship Game Recap
Your Ram men came into this game on a wonderful ride, the 15th seed in the tournament having dispatched #2 ranked Century, #7 Lakeridge, and league rival #3 Clackamas – a team that swept the Rams in the regular season – before meeting archrival and #1 ranked Jesuit in the final. This playoff run was built primarily on the strength of outstanding pitching from ace Dylan MacLean ’20, Clayton Reich ’19, Christian Cooney ’19, and Jackson Elder ’20 – and some outstanding defense. In the four previous games (including a first round matchup with Sandy) the Rams had given up a total of five runs and posted a 1-0 shutout of Clackamas in the semi-final game behind MacLean’s complete game effort and Charlie Steuer’s ‘20 clutch 6th inning RBI single.
Although MacLean went the distance in the semis, his pitch count was low – meaning that he would be eligible to start the final on Saturday, the Rams’ first final game appearance since 2011 with Kevin Cave ’98 at the helm. (Coincidentally, that 2011 appearance in the final was the first since 1998 – when Cave played for the Rams!) Jesuit countered with “un-hittable” Mick Abel, and in the early going he was, in fact, un-hittable. While I was not keeping the scorebook – Chuck Blickle, can you back me up? – Abel went through the first two innings with nothing approaching a modicum of discomfort; he threw but 18 pitches for his six outs – with at least four strikeouts. He WAS the guy everyone had talked about prior to the game.
On the other side MacLean was throwing well, but the Rams had some uncharacteristic misplays early on that led to a couple of jams in both the second and third innings. As would be a major theme throughout the day, MacLean and his teammates got through those innings unscathed with outstanding pitching and defense when it was needed.
In the top of the fourth University of Portland-bound star Cooney was hit by a pitch and quickly stole second. On a 2-2 count “professional hitter” Patrick Muskat ‘19 lined a single to left field. There was no question that Cooney would head for home, but there was no play at the plate as the Crusader fielder could not come up cleanly with the ball. RAMS LEAD 1-0!!!
Innings four, five, and six were – in comparison to much of the rest of the game – moderately uneventful with the notable exception of Cooney’s diving effort on a drive to center. While he came up just a bit short, this play did not lead to any runs for Jesuit – but Cooney had injured his hamstring and was finished for the day.
After that fourth inning MacLean was done as well. Given that he had held the Crusaders down, there was certainly some concern as to whether his replacement, Reich, could continue the shutout – and Abel was still throwing.
Whatever concerns the Ram faithful had – and, likewise, any hope Crusader fans had – that Reich would not be up to the task were QUICKLY laid to rest. He was, in a word, MAGNIFICENT. In an earlier playoff game (that I did not attend due to some other less important commitments) he had come on in relief with the bases loaded and no outs – and snuffed the rally. He was just like that in the fifth and sixth innings as Jesuit mounted no serious threats. Abel was still doing his thing and got his club to the bottom of the seventh still down just a run, 1-0.
With the whole right side of the stadium on their feet cheering every pitch, Reich went to work. Jesuit’s shortstop, Will Spitznagel, opened the inning with a solid single. Reich got the next hitter for the first out of the inning before Crusader leadoff man Kellar McCarthy lined a solid single to right field. Given Elder’s rocket of an arm in right it was unlikely that Spitznagel would try to go first to third in this situation, but Elder had just a slight bobble – and Spitznagel took the bait. Elder’s throw to third was a laser that beat Spitznagel to the bag, but it “short-hopped” third baseman Steuer. In a cloud of dust the ball was on the ground, and Jesuit had runners on first and third with just one out.
Jesuit’s Kevin Blair was next up, and he hit a soft ground ball to the Rams’ frosh phenom Thomas Ferroggiaro at shortstop. Ferroggiaro handled the ball cleanly, flipping to 2B Atticus Kayser ’20 for the force. Kayser turned and fired to first, narrowly missing the game ending double play, as Jesuit tied the game.
Reich finished off the seventh, and the game headed to extra innings. While there was certainly some air let out of the balloon for the Rams, the next 90 min were riveting for baseball fans as both teams were near flawless for five more innings. Certainly there were some mistakes, and both teams had occasional base runners. The Jesuit starter finished the eighth before being relieved; Reich dutifully marched to the mound for innings eight… and nine… and ten… and eleven… and twelve… and thirteen. It was – did I mention it before? – MAGNIFICENT.
Every couple of innings Jesuit would mount a threat; Clayton Reich and the Ram defense would snuff it out. In the twelfth, CC put runners on first and second with nobody out; Luke Farah put down a bunt, but the Jesuit catcher played it beautifully, gunning down the lead runner at third. With two outs, the Rams took a chance on an infield hit, sending pinch runner Mason Smith ’20 home, but a good throw from the second baseman nailed him at the plate.
Reich returned for his NINTH inning of work, but the thirteenth turned unlucky for our boys as Jesuit put runners at second and third with just one out. McCarthy hit a one-hopper to Ferroggiaro who quickly threw to Farah at home, easily getting the second out of the inning. The next hitter, Blair, bounced a solid single through a hole on the right side, scoring Spitznagel – and there was no joy in Mudville.
In retrospect, there was – for baseball fans, for Ram fans, for Crusader fans, for fans of high school athletics – a great amount of joy. It was a brilliant – almost surreal – game. As it continued, on and on and on, observers had to believe that someone would break, that someone would LOSE the game by committing an error, a blunder. It didn’t happen. Kids and coaches made plays, made the right calls. As always there were calls by officials that were controversial – but none of them changed the course of the game. It was beautiful.
Every pitch, every play in the field was nerve-wracking. Two great Oregon high schools – who hate to lose to each other – played a once-in-a-lifetime game, tied for the longest championship game in Oregon high school history. Both teams played with class, played with heart, played with courage. They played for their teammates and their coaches and their alums and their teachers and their schools. They played with great respect for each other. When it was over, one team was deliriously happy, the other despondent. Upon reflection I am sure that our boys will someday understand how special it was, that the sadness of that final inning certainly did not and will not define their effort that day.
Regardless of the final score your Rams were champions on that day.