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Westview's five HRs catch Central Catholic, as Wildcats win 6A baseball title 9-6

KEIZER - It was a matter of one team's muscles over another team's upset-minded challenge.

Heavily favored Westview turned the Class 6A baseball title match into a Home Run Derby on Saturday, tagging five homers in the closing four innings to rally from a 5-0 deficit and beat Central Catholic 9-6 at Volcanoes Stadium.

"Usually we're more of a doubles-singles-get-around-the-bases team," said Westview's Phil Belding, who wound up as the winning pitcher in relief. "It was crazy. I don't think we've ever hit three in a game - five is ridiculous."

The Wildcats (27-5) capped a year in which they were pegged as No. 1 in preseason and had to carry the burden of high expectations.

"Since the first day, people said we were the best team and all that; as a coach, obviously that's not comforting, because you worry about the kids not working hard or not pushing it," Antich said, "but the Metro League hardened us."

Nothing was much harder than finishing off the Mount Hood Conference-champion Rams.

Central Catholic scored two runs in the first inning on Saturday and three in the third, chasing University of Oregon-bound Westview starter Sam Johnson. It looked like the Rams' day.

Johnson responded with two home runs - including the game-winner, a three-run shot in the top of the seventh to cap Westview's steady comeback.

Belding led off that inning with a double to right that Rams' outfielder Garrett Olin had a shot to snare at the fence as he tried to look into the sun.

Central Catholic intentionally walked the next batter, star junior Carson Kelly, who was 2 for 3 with a homer and two RBIs.

The Rams ran into Johnson again, though, and he abruptly laced a pitch from reliever Codi Scanlon over the left-field fence to put Central Catholic behind for the first time in the game.

Scanlon got a one-out single in the CC seventh, but Belding was able to get the next two Rams on a strikeout and lineout to second base.

As Westview's fans stormed their side of the field at the home of the Class A Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, the Rams met in the opposite outfield and took stock of their 25-7 season.

"We're proud as heck of them," coach Kevin Cave said, "and the seniors ended their high school careers in the state championship game.

"I think these guys overachieved in the eyes of most people around the state, although we talked some among ourselves at the start of the year about making a playoff run."

Westview came into the finale having blasted Metro rival Jesuit 18-0 in Tuesday's semifinals, while Central Catholic advanced by scoring three times in the top of the seventh on Wednesday to win 4-1 at Roseburg.

But the Rams were the team that looked more relaxed on Saturday, and they got to Westview with some solid early contact at the plate and aggressive base-running.

Hunter Weiss singled in Central's first at-bat, and starting pitcher Jimmy Brakebush lashed an RBI double later in the inning. Then Paul Bluhm scored Brakebush with a double.

Weiss got aboard to lead off on a passed ball to lead off the third inning. After steadling second, he scored on Lucas Hunter's triple. Scanlon's sacrifice fly plated Hunter to give the Rams a 4-0 lead. Bluhm walked, stole second and scored from there on Westview second baseman Donnie Bradley's throwing error on what looked like an easy third out.

"We haven't had to play from behind an awful lot," Antich said. "The important thing was Phil coming in and giving us a chance with his pitching. And that our guys believed."

Westview cut its deficit to 5-1 on Johnson's leadoff homer in the fourth.

The Wildcats got within 5-4 in the fifth, when Tate Glasgow led off with a homer and Kelly hit a two-out HR down the left-field line that cleared the fence at 325 feet with a few feet to spare.

"After Carson's home run in the fifth, I think we felt, 'We've got this,' " Belding said.

The Rams improved their lead to 6-4 on a single by Luke Vanoudenhaegen that scored Lucas Germer, who pinch-ran after a double by Scanlon.

But Westview kept pounding away.

Scanlon took the mound in relief of Brakebush and hit leadoff man Kyle Henderson with his first pitch. Next up, Ryan Susnow homered to left, tying the game at 6-6 and further putting the momentum in the Wildcats' dugout.

And setting the stage for Johnson's final-inning heroics.

"They're a good hitting team," Cave said. "Our pitchers kept them at bay for four great innings. But they can explode at any point, and they did what good hitters do - they hit the ball hard. We knew they would make a run, and they just took advantage of every mistake we made."

Meanwhile, Belding wound up hurling the last four innings and giving up one run on four hits, with one walk and three strikeouts.

"Phil's just a great athlete," Antich said. "He throws strikes and has a great pickoff move. He bounces off the mound. He played basketball and quarterback in football, so who else would you want out there?"

Belding also helped to slow the Rams on the base paths. He picked off a runner at first, nailing Hunter after the Ram infielder had led off the fifth with a single.

"That was another reason to bring Phil in there - he shuts that down," Antich said.

Westview finished with 11 hits - one double, five singles and the five home runs.

Central Catholic got nine hits from seven players, with five players each driving home a run.

"We've had contributions from everyone this season," Cave said.

The top of the Rams' order was most productive on Saturday, with Weiss, Hunter and Scanlon leading the way.

"The top of their order was tough," Antich said, "and they've just got really good kids. They came out confident and with a good approach and played some good, scrappy baseball."

In the second week of May, the Wildcats won their last two league games over Southridge to take that three-game series and tie the Skyhawks at 12-3 in league.

Those two victories (9-8, 3-1) launched the eight-game winning streak that took Westview to its first state championship in one of the three traditionally major boys sports (football, basketball, baseball).

"It's huge," said Belding, one of nine seniors on the team. "It's hard to put into words how important this was to us and how much this means to us.

"We needed to prove that we were the best team in the state, and that's what we did."