Sean Eberhardt leads the way in a 6-5 win over Cleveland

PORTLAND - Early jitters nearly proved costly. But the Rex Putnam Kingsmen found their bearings in time to rally to a 6-5 win in a Class 5A play-in game with Cleveland on Thursday, earning themselves their school's first trip to the final 16 in baseball since 1998.

Ranked 15th in the OSAA RPI ranking, the Kingsmen (14-10) will play 11th-ranked Crescent Valley (19-7) on the road this afternoon in their first game of the 16-team Class 5A state playoffs.

Should they win that game, they'll meet either 23rd-ranked Sandy (10-15) or top-ranked Pendleton (23-2) in Friday's quarterfinals.

'I'm glad we won,' Putnam coach Jason Stanley said following the win over Cleveland. 'Our original goal was to make the playoffs. I don't know when the last time was that Putnam made the playoffs [in baseball], but it's been a long time.'

Putnam baseball teams did advance to postseason play in 2000, 2003 and 2007, but until last week the Kingsmen had not won a playoff game in the round of 32 since 1998, when they beat McNary 7-6, but lost to North Medford 7-6 in a second-round game.

Should the Kingsmen win this afternoon, this will be their best season since 1997, when they last won a league title and lost to eventual state champion McKay in the quarterfinals.

Last Thursday's win over Cleveland nearly didn't happen. Four of the Indians' five runs were unearned.

The Kingsmen dug themselves an early hole, thanks to three early-game errors.

'Our kids just hung in there,' said Stanley. 'The three errors they made were all on tough plays. It wasn't like they were ground balls right to them that they kicked.'

Cleveland went up 4-0, scoring two unearned runs in the first inning on a walk and two Putnam errors, and two more unearned runs in the second on two hits and an error.

The Kingsmen then played error-free ball the rest of the way, and they made their hits count.

Trailing 4-0, the Kingsmen broke through on offense in the top of the fifth, scoring three times on two hits and two Cleveland errors.

Putnam freshman shortstop Trace Loehr got things started in the fifth when he reached on an error by Cleveland's shortstop.

Sean Eberhardt and Nathan Edwards hit back-to-back doubles to put two runs on the board. Mason Dunning reached on a dropped third strike, and Edwards scored on Dunning's delayed steal to trim the Warriors' lead to 4-3.

Cleveland upped the gap to 5-3 in the bottom of the fifth, when senior first baseman Reuben Unrau crushed the ball over the fence in left field for a home run.

But the Warriors blinked again in the top of the sixth, and the Kingsmen took full advantage, scoring three more runs on an error, a walk and two more hits.

Jeremy Thompson began the rally, reaching on an error. Following a sacrifice bunt by Eli Skiles, Loehr singled.

Eberhardt smacked another double, plating two runs and knotting the score at 5-5.

Edwards walked, and Matt Harvey reached on a fielder's choice when the Warriors made the play at second for the second out of the inning. Eberhardt then scored on a delayed steal by Harvey, gaining the Kingsmen their 6-5 winning edge.

Eberhardt had one of the better games of his high school career. The senior right-hander struck out 10, walked two batters and allowed only three hits in a complete game. And he also starred with his bat, going 4-for-4 with the two doubles, driving in three runs and scoring twice.

The Kingsmen reached Cleveland pitcher Cole Hamilton (8 strikeouts, 3 walks) for eight hits.

Stanley said of Eberhardt's performance, 'He's done it all year. It's not the first time Sean's put us on his back and carried us.'

But Stanley was quick to add, 'Sean didn't do it alone. There were other guys, like Edwards, that had key hits. It was a team win. And after the early nerves, the entire team played great defense.'

Stanley said, 'We've got some quality kids on this team with quality character. Sean is one of them, but he's one of many.'

With the win, Putnam, the No. 3 team from the Northwest Oregon Conference, improved to 14-10 on the season.

Cleveland, the No. 3 team from the PIL, finished up at 9-15.

16 in a row for

Putnam softball

Putnam's softball team continued on track last week, routing Benson, 10-5 in five innings, in a 5A play-in game at Putnam.

It was the 16th straight win for the Kingsmen (21-4, 14-0), who enter this week's 16-team Class 5A state playoffs ranked fifth in the state.

They host Midwestern Conference champion and 13th-ranked Churchill (17-9) in today's first-round playoff game.

With a win in today's game, they'd advance to a Friday quarterfinal match-up with either 15th-ranked North Eugene (14-11) or fourth-ranked Pendleton (15-10).

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