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Bad start dooms Westside

by: Matthew Sherman, Nate Mays gets ready to rip a double in the third inning of last week’s 3A state championship game. Mays was 4-for-4 in the game.

Nate Mays stood in the on deck circle and watched teammate Austin Layton belt a line drive to right-centerfield.

In that instant, the Westside Christian Eagles had new life. If the ball gets down, Westside would only be trailing by a run with its most lethal hitter coming to the plate with a runner in scoring position.

The ball sliced into the gap… or at least where the gap would normally be. Burns had aligned its outfield perfectly for Layton's shot and the catch was made. The wave of cheers then swelled from the first-base line to the third-base line as a swarm of purple jerseys accumulated near the pitcher's mound.

And just like that, the comeback was over. Westside, a team with just three seniors, had rallied from an 9-1 deficit to bring the tying run to the plate.

There were mainly smiles on the Westside players' faces after the final out was recorded perhaps because the bulk of the team will return next year on a squad that will be considered a strong contender for the 3A title.

But the few tears were likely because, if not for a handful of uncharacteristic mistakes early in the game, the Eagles might have entered next spring as defending champions.

In a brief 15-minute period, Westside saw the wind go out of its sails, leaving a dejected dugout until the top of the fifth inning.

The Eagles struck first against vaunted Burns pitcher Tommy Ghost Dog. Back-to-back walks and a bloop single by Mays loaded the bases and Chris Mueller followed with a sacrifice fly to plate Scott Moyer, the game's first run.

Then, with one out, Josh Britton hit a line drive to shortstop and a throw back to second base barely beat Layton for the inning-ending double play.

That brought Burns up and the Hilanders were eager to swing the bats, jumping on a number of first-pitches from Mueller.

The lead-off batter hit a sharp ground ball to shortstop that got through for an error.

Two soft singles and a dropped fly ball, led to a pair of Burns runs and another single loaded the bases before the first out was recorded. Mueller struck out the next batter but then walked in a run and gave up a two-run single.

'First inning we kind of had the jitters, playing on the big stage,' Mays said.

The next Burns batter hit a pop-up that fell in the infield but Westside recorded an out at second base. One more run scored on a wild pitch before Mueller struck out the 11th batter of the inning to get the Eagles off the field.

'We didn't support our pitchers. We just didn't make enough plays early on,' coach Adam Sarancik said.

In the top of the third inning, Mays belted a two-out double to the wall in left field but was stranded. Westside hit Ghost Dog well for much of the evening, striking out just five times. The team was also patient, upping the ace's pitch count by drawing six walks. Ghost Dog pitched every inning for Burns in the playoffs and, in the title game, threw 148 pitches.

'We had to be patient. He's very tough and you can't chase balls out of the strike zone,' Sarancik said.

Burns scored two more runs in the bottom of the third on one hit, another error, two wild pitches and a sacrifice fly. The Hilanders would add one more in the fourth on a pair of two-out hits, giving the defending state champions their biggest lead of the game.

With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Westside went to its bullpen and brought in Brandon Bray who walked a batter before getting the final out. Bray would finish the game for the Eagles.

After each inning, Sarancik and a smattering of Westside players kept echoing that the deficit 'was nothing' and that the team has 'done this before.'

And, sure enough, the Eagles couldn't be grounded forever.

In the top of the fifth, Alex Easterlin led off by drawing a walk and, with one out, Scott Moyer laid down a perfect bunt single.

Layton reached on an error to load the bases and bring up Mays. Once again, Mays didn't waste time. He took Ghost Dog's first pitch and belted it to the fence again, scoring two runs.

'We knew Ghost Dog was an amazing pitcher and if you get a good pitch you have to hit it or he'll just paint the corners against you,' Mays said.

Mueller followed with a two-run double of his own and suddenly the Eagles were back within striking distance.

'We knew we wouldn't be kept down for the whole game. We have battled in every game and through the playoffs. It didn't matter what their lead was we were going to challenge them. We have too many good hitters and these guys have worked too hard to quit before the last out,' Sarancik said.

Burns continued to put the pressure on, however. The Hilanders added yet another unearned run in the bottom of the fifth.

In the top of the sixth, Easterlin reached base on an error with one out. Ryan Herd then belted a line drive to right field for an RBI double. Moyer followed with a single and, with two outs, Mays hit another first-pitch, this time on a ball at his ankles, and knocked it into centerfield for an RBI single.

Mays was 4-for-4 on the day with three RBIs and also threw out a runner attempting to steal second base earlier in the game.

'I think out of 26 games we've played this year, (Mays) didn't get a hit in two of them. He's hitting .630 or .640 and it has to be over .700 with runners in scoring position,' Sarancik said.

Westside loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth inning but the Eagles couldn't draw closer.

Again, Burns added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on a pair of walks and an RBI single.

But the Eagles had their confidence back and knew that another four-run inning wasn't out of the question.

Bray led off the top of the seventh by reaching on a bad throw from the shortstop that pulled the first-baseman off the bag.

Zach Renicker was then hit by a pitch and the two base-runners stole second and third base with Bray barely beating the throw.

Easterlin followed with a sharp ground ball that was speared by the shortstop on a great play as he threw Easterlin out by a step. Bray came in to score on the ground out.

With two outs, Moyer drew a walk to bring up Layton and put the dangerous Mays in the on deck circle.

Layton belted Ghost Dog's pitch but the Burns outfielder had a beat on it off the bat, clinching his team's second consecutive state title.

Westside was 21-3 on the year, losing just one game in league and knocked off two of the best team's in the state, Vale and Santiam Christian to earn a spot in the state title game.

'We are very proud. We felt like we earned the right to be here. We were as hot at the end of the year as any team and came in here with a lot of confidence,' Sarancik said.

Only Herd, Michael Rose and Josh Britton will graduate this year while Layton, Moyer and Mays are only sophomores, meaning that the future is extremely bright for the Eagles baseball team.

'It's been a great year. This is a great group of guys and it's been a lot of fun,' Moyer said.