Baseball: Tanner Kichler throws a one-hitter to help the Bowmen advance to the state title tilt
SHERWOOD - One run.
One measly, little run.
That's all the Sherwood High School baseball team could manage to score against West Albany in Tuesday's Class 5A state playoff semifinal game.
But, with the way Tanner Kichler was pitching, that one run was enough.
It was enough to give the Bowmen a win, and it was enough to send them to the state championship game.
Sherwood, behind Kichler's spectacular, dominating pitching performance, as well as some clutch defensive play, came away with a 1-0 victory over West Albany in the state playoff semifinal game played at Sherwood High.
'This is one of the best feelings ever,' Kichler said. 'This is just amazing.'
'This is so exciting,' said Sherwood senior first baseman Jake Lawrence, who scored the only run of the game. 'There's a lot of things running through my mind right now.'
West Albany, the Mid-Willamette Conference champion, finished its season with a final overall record of 21-8.
Sherwood, the No. 2 team out of the Northwest Oregon Conference, improved to 23-6 on the season. The Bowmen also advance to face Wilsonville, their NWOC rival, Saturday in the Class 5A state championship game, starting at 10 a.m. at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
'I can't wait,' said Sherwood senior shortstop Tyler Rome, who made a magnificent defensive play for the final out of the semifinal contest. 'I've dreamed about this for a long time.'
And Kichler, with his pitching performance on Tuesday, helped make the Bowmen dreams come true. In seven shutout innings of work, he gave up just one hit while striking out 13 and walking three.
'I just stayed real focused today. I blocked everything out,' the hard-throwing right-hander said. 'My fastball, curveball, everything was working today. I felt like if my team could go a run up, I could get it done.'
'He was pretty awesome,' Sherwood coach Jon Strohmaier said with a smile.
'He was amazing. He was lights out,' Rome said. 'It was incredible.'
West Albany senior pitcher Taylor Burner also was impressive in Tuesday's semifinal game. In fact, right from the start, it appeared that runs would be at a premium.
The Bowmen got what turned out to be the game's only run in the bottom of the second inning. Lawrence got things going when he hit a 3-2 pitch up the middle for a single. Seniors Jordan Ramp and Brandon Scott then drew back-to-back walks to load the bases.
Burner got a strikeout for the second out of the inning. The next Bowmen batter, junior Connor Munro, drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, checking his swing at the last moment, bringing in Lawrence to give Sherwood a 1-0 lead.
'Who would have thought that would turn out to be the only run of the game?' Lawrence said.
Sherwood threatened again in the third inning. Sophomore Joseph Balfour led off the frame for the Bowmen with a line-drive single to left field. He moved up to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Rome. With two outs in the frame, West Albany committed a fielding error on a hard-hit ground ball by Lawrence, but Balfour was tagged out at home trying to score on the play.
Sherwood kept trying to add on to its lead the rest of the way. In the fourth, Bowmen senior Brandon Scott had a one-out infield single and he moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior Geoff Walck, but a fly out to center ended the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, senior Justin Davis led off with a single and, one out later, Rome had an infield single. But Burner got back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning unscathed. Scott had an infield single and Walck was hit by a pitch to put two runners on base with one out in the sixth inning, but a fly ball and a groundout ended the threat.
That left the Bowmen clinging to their 1-0 lead going into the top of the seventh inning.
Kichler walked West Albany senior Nick Lebengood on four pitches to lead off the seventh. That prompted Strohmaier to make a visit to the mound to talk to Kichler.
'I told him 'you're pitching a hell of a game and you deserve to finish it. Now let's get this done and go to Keizer,'' Strohmaier said.
Kichler responded by striking out both Jesse Trader and Cody James for the first two outs of the inning. That brought senior Harry Reid to the plate as the Bulldogs' last chance. Reid hit a hard grounder toward the hole between shortstop and third base.
Rome, ranging quickly to his right, fielded the ball very deep in the hole, almost on the outfield grass. In one smooth motion, he turned and rifled a throw to Lawrence at first, nipping Reid at the bag for the final out of the game.
'I've been visualizing making a play like that for months,' Rome said. 'The last out, a crucial play - it was great.'
'That was one of the best defensive plays we've had here in a long time,' Strohmaier said.
With that final out call, Sherwood began its victory celebration.
'It was relief, and excitement,' Kichler said. 'I turned toward Jordan (Ramp) and just started yelling. The next thing you know, I'm on the ground underneath the dog pile. It was awesome.'
'It was amazing. It was the best feeling,' Rome said.
'I'm just proud of the guys,' Strohmaier said.
Sherwood had six hits in the victory. Scott had two of those hits while Lawrence, Balfour, Davis and Rome had one apiece.
Burner had the only hit of the game for West Albany, a single coming with one out in the fourth inning.
On the mound, Burner, in six innings of work, struck out eight and walked three.