Valley Catholic baseball comes up short in the state playoffs at Burns
by: Miles Vance, VC HURLER — Valley Catholic pitcher Taylor Buuck (shown here earlier in the season) struck out 12 in his team's playoff loss at Burns.

BURNS - The road to the Class 3A state baseball playoffs was long indeed for Valley Catholic.

The Valiants, after finishing second in the Lewis and Clark League, first had to win a league playoff game just to reach the state playoffs.

Once they got there, both the road and the odds got even longer, but the Valiants battled back against both before finally falling 10-7 to Burns at Burns High School on May 23.

The loss ended VC's year with a 15-9 overall mark, while Burns - the Eastern Oregon Conference champion - went on to beat Glide in its quarterfinal and fall to Santiam Christian in its semi and ended 2012 at 16-9.

The Valiants, despite the 300-mile, six-hour drive required to get to Burns, opened their playoff with a flourish.

VC got a run-scoring double in the top of the first from senior Jackson Neff, saw Burns respond with three in its half of the first, but then poured across five more in the top of the second to lead 6-3.

There, according to head coach Pat Thomas, the Valiants put together several hits in a row and capped their rally with a two-run double by Neff for that three-run edge.

The Valiants and Highlanders then traded runs - Burns adding one in its half of the second and VC one more in the fourth - to take the Valley Catholic lead to 7-4.

But on this day, it just wouldn't be enough. The Highlanders put together a rally in the bottom of the fourth, scoring four times to take an 8-7 lead, then tacking on two more in the fifth to make it 10-7.

Burns' fourth began with a strikeout by its leadoff hitter, but the pitch hit the dirt and as the ball bounced up in front of Valiant catcher Clay Kemper, the batter accidently deflected the ball to the backstop and raced safely to first.

Valley Catholic pitcher Carter Buuck walked the next batter and the Highlanders then strung a couple of hits together and used two VC infield errors to power their four-run inning.

'That turned the momentum and flipped the score from 7-4 us to 8-7 them,' Thomas said.

To make things worse, Valley Catholic just couldn't take advantage of its remaining chances - notably in the fifth - and the Highlanders hung on to win.

In that fifth, Valley Catholic got back-to-back singles by Cassidy and Kemper, and next batter Jarrett Gray crushed a ball over the Burns center fielder's head, but he went back and made an over-the-shoulder catch, and the inning ended with back-to-back groundouts.

'We had two on with nobody out in the top of the fifth but couldn't cash in,' Thomas said.

Neff finished with two doubles and three RBIs in his final high school game, Kemper had two hits and two RBIs, and Liam Cassidy added two hits as well.

Buuck went the distance on the mound, throwing six innings, allowing nine hits and six walks while striking out 12.

'The key to the game was probably their big fourth inning,' Thomas said. 'The game could easily have gone either way, but unfortunately, they outslugged us that day.'

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