Westside moves on to state title game
The Westside Christian High School Eagles have already knocked off two giants in the Class 3A baseball playoffs. Now they need to beat one more to be state champions.
The Eagles will meet defending state champion Burns, the third-ranked team in Oregon, on Friday at 5 p.m. at Volcano Stadium in Keizer.
So far for Westside it's been the bigger they are, the harder they fall. The Eagles dumped number-one ranked Vale 8-5 on Friday at home, then outlasted number-two Santiam Christian on Tuesday at Lake Oswego High School.
'You have to do that if you want to go all the way,' said Coach Adam Sarancik. 'You have to play the best. We've been preparing to do this for the past three years.
'We've surprised some people, but being in the state championship game is not surprising to us. Playing the defending state champions is familiar territory for us.'
Still, Sarancik and his team are going into the contest with great respect for Burns.
Mainly because Burns is a traditional powerhouse and possesses the state player of the year in pitcher Tommy Ghost Dog.
'He's pitched a lot already,' Sarancik said. 'But he'll pitch against us if he has to.'
Another good reason to respect Burns: The Hilanders blitzed the Eagles 13-0 in a spring tournament game, for one of just two losses that Westside Christian has suffered this season.
But Sarancik does not expect any carry-over from that lopsided affair.
'I don't think that will influence us at all,' he said. 'We're on as good a roll as any team in the state.'
Starting pitcher for Westside will be Chris Mueller, who has been brilliant this season with a 7-0 record, 5 saves, a miniscule 1.01 ERA, and 78 strikeouts in 42 innings.
Mueller does other things well, too, because he recently was named to the Class 3A All-State Team at the utility position.
Also earning first team all-state honors was slugging catcher Nate Mays, who is hitting .618 with 40 RBIs.
Other Eagles earning all-state honors were pitcher Zach Renicker, second team; outfielder Brandon Bray, third team; and shortstop Josh Britton, honorable mention.
The Eagles showed they could take the heat of championship level baseball with their win over Santiam Christian in a hair-raising finish.
A three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning pushed Westside to a 7-5.
It featured a two-run single by first baseman Michael Rose, who literally had to crawl to first base after injuring his knee at home plate.
'It must have taken him 45 seconds to reach first base, and he was screaming in pain,' Sarancik said.
Bray then drove in what proved to be the winning run.
The seventh inning was even more dramatic. Santiam Christian had filled the bases with no outs when a long fly was hit to right field.
Santiam claimed the ball hit the ground but Westside claimed that Scott Moyer caught it, and the umpires ruled in the Eagles' favor.
Having dodged that bullet, Westside allowed only one run to score before Mueller retired the last two batters.
Mays led the Eagles at the plate, going 3 for 4 with a home run and 2 RBIs.
The win over Vale was plenty exciting, too, as the Eagle bats came alive against the number one team.
The big blow was Mays' base-clearing triple in the fourth inning, which sparked a truly impressiv five-run rally.
Second baseman Austin Layton contributed a run-scoring single to the surge. Westside iced the win with two more runs in the sixth.
Mueller did a solid job on the mound, pitching a complete-game six-hitter and striking out 11.
Westside Christian is now 22-2 on the season and has already had its most successful year in the school's history.