Hawks soar to championship heights

Horizon Christian beats Bandon 7-2 to claim its first state baseball crown
by: JAIME VALDEZ CELEBRATION — Horizon Christian High School junior Josh Holmes (left) and sophomore Willie Brucker begin to rejoice following the final out of the Hawks’ 7-2 win over Bandon in the Class 3A state title game.

KEIZER - Back in the summer of 2010, players on the Horizon Christian High School baseball team set a goal.

And it was quite a lofty goal.

The Hawks wanted to get to the 2011 Class 3A state championship game.

Well, thanks to an efficient, productive offense, an unyielding, solid defense and a gutsy performance on the mound by a sophomore left-hander, the Hawks not only met that goal - they did it one better.

Horizon Christian, seemingly excelling at all aspects of the game, captured its first ever state baseball title by rolling to a 7-2 win over Bandon in the Class 3A state championship game played Friday at Volcanoes Stadium.

'It's unbelievable,' said Horizon Christian senior outfielder Spencer Vroman, who went 2-for-4 at the plate in the title contest with a key, two-run double. 'We worked really hard for this and we all had the same goal since the beginning. Back at the end of summer ball, we set a goal of getting to the state championship game. This is the first championship for our school for baseball and it feels great.'

'We're real excited about this,' Horizon Christian coach Alex Esquerra said. 'Since the end of summer, we set a goal of playing here. The kids worked hard in the rain, they worked hard indoors, and they worked hard outdoors. It's a blessing to play our best game against the best team.'

Bandon, the Sunset League champion, finished its season with a final overall record of 23-4.

Horizon Christian, the West Valley League champion, improved to 27-3 on the season with the win, its 25th straight to end the season.

'This means everything to us,' Horizon Christian senior shortstop Shane Monahan said. 'We worked so hard for this and we deserve it.'

'We started a legacy,' Horizon Christian sophomore pitcher Willie Brucker said. 'Words can't explain how we feel right now. God blessed us.'

Brucker turned in a strong performance on the mound in the victory, giving up two runs on four hits while striking out six and walking two in getting the win over the powerful Bandon squad.

'Willie really was our MVP of our four-game playoff stretch,' Esquerra said. 'He always delivers and he's always tough.'

'He did his thing,' Monahan said. 'He throws strikes and hits his spots. He was determined. The whole team was determined.'

'I have faith in my guys,' Brucker said.

Brucker and Bandon senior Michael Bennett locked up in a pitcher's duel in the early innings, as neither team was able to put a run on the scoreboard going into the bottom of the third inning.

But that's when the Hawks broke through.

Sophomore Zach Selland led off the bottom of the third for the Hawks with a single to center. He moved up to second base on a wild pitch and then advanced to third on a bunt single by freshman designated hitter Kyle Esquerra.

Selland then scored the first run of the game on an infield single by Monahan. The Hawks didn't stop there. Brucker followed with a bunt single, loading the bases with no outs.

Vroman then belted a double to center field, driving in both Esquerra and Monahan to give Horizon Christian a 3-0 lead.

'That felt good, but it could have been anyone on our team. We all can do it,' Vroman said of his timely double. 'We play some small ball some big ball.'

Brucker, who moved to third on Vroman's double, then scored on a sacrifice fly by junior Jordan Pearson to up the margin to 4-0.

'We came out ready to hit the ball,' Pearson said of the big inning. 'They have a great pitcher, and we knew it would be rough. We practiced hard and came out prepared.'

'That was huge,' Selland said of the four-run third inning. 'For our team, once someone starts hitting, we all keep it going. We've been practicing our hitting all year, and today we got it done.'

But, while the Hawks were happy with their 4-0 lead, talented Bandon tried to battle its way back into the game.

Bennett hit a leadoff home run in the top of the fourth inning to make the score 4-1. The Tigers added another run in the fifth, when junior Travis Gallagher scored from third on a fielder's choice grounder by senior Jimmy Mack to trim the deficit to 4-2.

But the Hawks made sure Bandon wouldn't get any closer.

Horizon Christian answered back in the bottom of the fifth, scoring a pair of runs with two outs in the frame.

Vroman got things going with a two-out single to center. Pearson followed with a double to the gap in left-center field, driving in Vroman to make the score 5-2. Senior Trevor Guay then singled to left field, plating Pearson to up the lead to 6-2.

The Hawks added another run in the bottom of the sixth. Senior Ryan Guay singled to center to lead off the frame. Selland then reached base when Bandon committed a throwing error on his sacrifice bunt. Kyle Esquerra followed with a bunt single, loading the bases with no outs.

Ryan Guay then scored on a sacrifice fly by Monahan, pushing the margin to 7-2.

Sophomore Mychal Yarbor, pitching in relief for Bandon, got a strikeout and a fly out to prevent any further damage. But the Hawks felt good taking their five-run lead into the seventh inning.

'In the sixth inning, I just wanted to go out there and pitch again,' Brucker said of his thoughts going into the final frame.

And it showed.

Brucker struck out both Bandon senior Jared Halpin and Gallagher to start the seventh. Yarbor then hit a fly ball to left field. Junior T.J. Hilton, playing in left for the Hawks, made a running catch for the final out of the game.

'That was an incredible play,' Brucker said.

'T.J. is a stud in left field,' Monahan said.

With Hilton's catch in left field, the Horizon Christian championship celebration began.

'I've been waiting for that dog pile all year,' Pearson said. 'This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We did it all for God.'

'I was so pumped up,' Selland said. 'We're state champions. It felt so good playing for God. Oh yeah, this was a lot of fun. It was fun playing with the seniors on the team. I love them all.'

'We were happy and excited,' Vroman said. 'We were looking forward to the celebration. There was happiness all around.'

'This was a blessing,' Alex Esquerra said. 'We're happy we could bring this to the school. None of this was expected.'

Pearson, Horizon Christian's catcher, seemed extremely happy, kissing his championship medal as he walked off the field.

'I've waited three years for this,' he said with a smile. 'And I'm glad I did it with this group. I definitely wanted share it with these guys.'

Horizon Christian, as a team, had 11 base hits in the victory. Four of those hits were either bunt singles or infield singles.

'We have been playing both big ball and small ball all year,' Monahan said. 'And we've been productive all year.'

Ryan Guay and Kyle Esquerra each went 2-for-3 at the plate with a run scored for the Hawks in the win. Vroman had two RBI and a run to go with his two hits. Pearson went 1-for-2 with two RBI and a run. Monahan went 1-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored.

Brucker, Trevor Guay and Selland each had one hit.

The Hawks committed one error on defense, coming on a tough play on a bloop fly hit to shallow center field, and also turned a double play, the team's fourth in postseason play.

'I think we have by far the best defense in the state,' Monahan said.

For Bandon, junior Timmy Young, Yarbor, Bennett and Gallagher each had one hit.

The state championship game victory marked the final high school game for Horizon Christian seniors Trevor Guay, Ryan Guay, Vroman, Monahan, Kyle Stark and Petersen.

'It's a great way to go out,' Vroman said.

Other players on the Horizon Christian state championship team include sophomore David Lindsay, freshman Samson Schweiger and junior Josh Holmes.

Joe Monahan and Ray Pearson are the team's assistant coaches and Matt Pruett is the manager.