They send the defending state champions packing
The unheralded Gladstone Gladiators pulled up the biggest upset of the 2012 Oregon high school baseball playoffs - at any level, knocking off defending state Class 4A champion Astoria 7-6 in a May 17 state play-in game played before the Fishermen's home fans in Astoria.
The Cowapa League co-champion Fishermen (19-7, 12-3) entered the contest ranked seventh in the state, while Gladstone (12-14, 7-8), which tied for third place in the Tri-Valley Conference and had a losing record, was ranked 25th.
'In all my years of coaching, this ranks right up there as one of the top two comebacks,' said Gladstone coach Casey Webster. 'It was pretty incredible. We were down 6-0 after five.'
Webster said the huge come-from-behind win is comparable to his Gladiators' win over North Marion in the 2004 semifinals. Trailing 5-0, the Gladiators rallied to win that game 7-6, making school history by advancing to a state final in baseball for the very first time.
In last week's game, the Fishermen started their ace, right-handed flamethrower Conner Harbor, who pitched in last year's state title game. Harbor struck out 11 in 6-1/3 innings, but the Gladiators reached him for six hits and six walks.
Harbor was especially sharp in the early going, giving up just one hit in the first four innings, a one-out double to Trace Webster in the top of the fourth.
But Harbor started having some control problems in the fifth, when A.J. Swalko, Eamon Burrell and Dakota Braun walked to load the bases. Daniel Wallace then drove in a run with a fielder's choice, and the Gladiators' deficit was 6-1.
Reese Foxworthy reached on an error, Justin Layton walked and Swalko singled to load the bases in the sixth.
Enter senior left-hander Dakota Braun, who hit a full-count, two-out grandslam home run just inside the left field foul pole. And the Gladiators were back in the game, trailing 6-5.
'It was a really far outside pitch,' said Braun. 'But I knew they were going to call it a strike. I was just trying to fight it off. I honestly didn't think it was going out. I thought it was going to go foul. There was a back-wind, and it just kept going.'
Wallace added a solo home run to lead off the seventh, and it was a 6-6 tie ball game.
Webster walked, and the Fishermen replaced Harbor with Justin Poyer. Foxworthy moved Webster to second with a sacrifice bunt. And, with two down, Kyle Betnar rapped a run-scoring single to left, and the Gladiators were on top 7-6.
Braun's and Wallace's home runs were both their first home runs of the 2012 season.
With two down in the bottom of the seventh, Braun, pitching if relief of Justin Layton (5 strikeouts, 3 walks, 8 hits in 6-1/3 innings), walked a batter and hit a batter. He then struck out Astoria's lead-off batter on three straight pitches to retire the side.
'I told the kids they've been taking me on a roller coaster ride this season like I've never been on,' coach Webster said. 'We've had a rough season, but we knew these kids were tough. They just needed to get tough and play the way they can. I'm happy for the kids. This is a game I'm sure they'll remember for the rest of their lives....
'They faced a tough pitcher, but they just kept after it.'
'This definitely gives us a lot of confidence,' said Braun. 'Astoria is one of the top teams in the state and we faced their best pitcher. If we can compete with them, we can compete with anybody.'
Next up for the Gladiators is a first-round state play-off game, scheduled this afternoon at Sky-Em champion Sisters (23-3, 15-0). Ranked fifth in the state, the Outlaws are riding a 21-game win string.