The unheralded Pioneers hold their own in postseason play
Coaches will argue that when it comes to postseason play, previous games and rankings mean little. Every team is 0-0 when they start the playoffs, coaches tell their players.
The Oregon City Pioneers have proven that to be the case. After going 14-11 on the regular season, Oregon City High School's baseball team stunned fourth-ranked Jesuit, winning 4-2 in a non-counting 'friendly game' played at Jesuit on May 16.
And in the first two games of the Class 6A state playoffs, played on Monday and Wednesday of last week, the unheralded Pioneers followed up a 5-3 upset of 12th-ranked Central Catholic with a 4-0 shutout of McNary.
The pair of wins advanced the Pioneers to the big-school quarterfinals for the first time since 2003, when a Jonah Nickerson-led Oregon City team lost to Jesuit 4-2 in the Class 4A semifinals.
The Pioneers were to meet Jesuit again in this year's Class 6A quarterfinals, scheduled last Friday (May 25).
'It's hard to beat a good team twice,' said Oregon City senior Louis Wolf. 'But we're going to work extra hard in practice, and see if we can do it.'
With a new coaching staff, Wolf and his teammates say there's a changed attitude from a year ago, when the Pioneers went 3-22 and finished last in the Three Rivers League, at 1-14. They went 9-6 in league and tied Clackamas for second place this spring.
'The whole team has bought into the coaches and what they're telling us we need to do to be successful,' said Oregon City senior Jon Reece.
'We believe in our mission statement,' said Wolf. 'Relentlessly pursuing a championship.'
'I think the biggest difference [from last year] is our work ethic,' said Oregon City junior Tyler Moon. 'There aren't a lot of teams that go in at 6 a.m. to practice. We're spending the time we need to spend to get better, and it's paying off.'
'[Making the quarterfinals] my senior year means everything to me,' Reece said, following last week's shutout of McNary. 'I'm so excited right now!'
'Every extra day is a bonus,' said Oregon City senior Marc Morris. 'You get to spend another day with a group of guys that work hard and have a passion for the game. You don't want it to end.'
The Pioneers played some of their best baseball of the season in last week's wins over McNary and Central Catholic.
In the second-round shutout over McNary, they committed just one error behind Moon. The junior left-hander pitched a complete game, striking out two and walking no one in a 4-hitter.
Moon (5-1, 2.0 ERA) made it three-up and three-down in the first, fourth, fifth and seventh innings, as he recorded his first shutout of the year.
'My change-up was definitely working tonight,' Moon said.
The Celtics' only scoring threat came in the top of the third, when they loaded the bases, with two down, on Oregon City's only error and two singles.
McNary clean-up hitter D.J. Harryman stepped to the plate and ripped a low line drive that appeared just out of reach of Oregon City sophomore third baseman Clay Reece. Reece dove and somehow got to the ball, saving two runs, and ending the inning with the catch. Oregon City was nursing only a 1-0 lead at the time.
The error, at the start of the inning, had been made by Clay Reece.
'I'm glad [Clay] didn't dwell on [the error],' Jon Reece said. 'He bounced right back and made the play.'
Marc Morris staked the Pioneers to their 1-0 lead in the first inning, crushing a solo home run over the fence in left field at Lake Oswego High School's turf field, where the game was played.
'It was a fastball right down the middle, belt high,' Morris said. 'He gave me a curve ball on the first pitch, so I was expecting a fastball. I got a piece of it and drove it for my team. That's all that matters.'
The score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth, when the Pioneers took advantage of some Celtic miscues to score three more times.
Cary Swalwell (2-for-3) led off the fifth with a double that hit the chalk on the right-field line. Jon Reece followed with a bunt single. Two outs later, McNary pitcher Ben Johnson issued an intentional walk to Wolf to load the bases.
Swalwell then got Johnson to balk, forcing in a run and making it a 2-0 ball game.
Jake Phillips then pounded a ball up the middle that got by McNary's shortstop (McNary's only error), two Oregon City runs scored, and it was a 4-0 ball game.
Johnson pitched a complete game for McNary (13-13, 5-10 in the Central Valley Conference), striking out one, giving up five hits, and walking three - one intentional.
McNary, which won a state championship in 2009, had advanced to the second-round game with Oregon City through an 11-7 first-round upset of fifth-ranked Tualatin.
Oregon City's 5-3 win over Mt. Hood Conference champion Central Catholic (18-10, 12-3) was a barnburner. Oregon City scored two runs in the top of the seventh to win it.
With the scored tied at 3-3, the Pioneers loaded the bases in the seventh on a drag-bunt single by Jon Reece (3-for-4), a hit batsman (Clay Reece), and a walk by Marc Morris.
Wolf then plated the game-winner when he reached on an error by the Rams' second baseman. Jake Phillips (2-for-4) added an insurance tally with an RBI single.
It was a come-from-behind win for the Pioneers, who trailed 3-0 after giving up three runs in the first inning, on three hits - including a solo home run by Codi Scanlon.
Oregon City scored one run in the third on a double by Jon Reece, a base hit by Clay Reece, and a run-scoring sacrifice fly by Morris.
The Pioneers scored once in the fourth on a triple by Phillips and a sacrifice fly by Jake Tipton.
And they added a third run in the fifth. Jon Reece singled, advanced on a bunt by Clay Reece and scored on a two-out single by Wolf.
The Pioneers outhit their hosts 9-6.
Oregon City junior Rilyn Lewchuk was sharp on the mound, after the first inning. He had eight strikeouts and walked no one, while allowing only two earned runs, in a complete game.
'His curve ball was working and he was hitting his spots,' said Oregon City assistant coach Mike Lord.
The win put Lewchuck at 4-3 on the season, with just under a 2.0 ERA.