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THE BIG RED NO. 1

Westview hits five homers, rallies from 5-0 down, wins its first state title
by: Miles Vance HERE HE COMES — Westview senior Sam Johnson (No. 20 at left) prepares to touch home plate with his teammates cheering him on after Johnson blasted a three-run homer in the seventh inning Saturday.

KEIZER - There was no stopping the Big Red One.

The Westview baseball team, after putting together one of the best summer seasons ever and rolling into 2011 with a big bull's-eye in the middle of its back, finished the deal on Saturday, and finished the deal in dramatic, Wildcat-style fashion.

Trailing Central Catholic 5-0 three innings into the Class 6A state championship game at Volcanoes Stadium, Westview righted itself mid-game, turned on the power and simply knocked the Rams out of the park.

The Wildcats pounded out five home runs in the game's final four innings, outscored Central Catholic 9-1 in that span, and strutted off with a 9-6 victory and the first state baseball championship in Westview's 17-year history.

'It's unbelievable,' said senior outfielder/pitcher Phil Belding, who went 1-for-4 at the plate and scored once, and also picked up the win in relief after throwing four innings and allowing one run on four hits and one walk while striking out three. 'I can't even explain how I'm feeling right now. It's just perfect.'

'There's no better way to go out than this,' said senior second baseman Donnie Bradley, who went 1-for-4 and scored once in the win. 'Everyone really came through. It was just awesome.'

'To take that challenge and take that pressure and motor all the way through the season and get to this point, and then to come back from five down, what a legacy for these seniors,' added Westview's fifth-year coach Steve Antich, who previously led the Cats to a runner-up finish in his inaugural season of 2007. 'It's an unbelievable legacy. I don't think we'll ever see anything like that again.'

The win capped Westview's 2011 season - which also included a Metro League co-championship - with a 27-5 overall record, while Mt. Hood Conference champion Central Catholic ended its year at 25-7.

Though Westview closed its year with a flourish, the Rams had the Wildcats back on their heels and thinking upset for the first three innings of Saturday's game.

After Ram junior Jimmy Brakebush threw a shutout inning to open the game - yielding only a two-out single to Carson Kelly - Central Catholic stepped up to take the lead in the bottom of the first. Left fielder Hunter Weiss opened the Rams' first with a single to center field off Westview starter Sam Johnson, stole second base, and with two outs, scored on Garrett Olin's double to right-center field. Olin then came home to make it 2-0 when next hitter Paul Bluhm doubled down the right-field line.

Westview failed to score again in the second, wasting a two-out single by Tate Glasgow, then went down in order in the third. Then, in the bottom of the third, the Rams pushed across three more runs to extend their lead to 5-0 and end the University of Oregon-bound Johnson's day on the mound.

Weiss got things started when he struck out but reached base on a catcher error, stole second, and scored when Lucas Hunter tripled down the right-field line. Codi Scanlon followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to left field, and after Bluhm walked with two outs, Bluhm stole second and scored when Bradley threw the ball away on a Luke Vanoudenhagen ground ball.

'They really came out hitting fastballs which is a lot of what we throw,' Bradley said. 'We have a lot of guys who throw hard, so when they started hitting fastballs we knew it was going to be a tough game.'

'We just didn't come out very strong,' Belding added. 'It kind of looked like we underestimated them a little bit.'

But the Wildcats weren't going to let this one get away, and Johnson played a huge role in his team's reawakening. The Westview senior knew his day on the mound was over, but knew he could still contribute with his bat, and Johnson did just that as the leadoff hitter in the fourth inning, hammering an 0-1 Olin pitch over the center-field fence more than 405 feet away from the plate to cut his team's deficit to 5-1.

Belding came on to pitch a 1-2-3 fourth, and opened the door for more Westview fireworks in the top of the fifth. There, Glasgow led off with a solo homer to right-center, Bradley followed with a single to left, took second on a balk and scored when Kelly homered down the left-field line to bring the Wildcats back within 5-4.

'Phil did a great job of settling down their at-bats and that was big,' Antich said. 'And with our offense, we knew we could climb back.'

Westview was already most of the way back, but Central wasn't quite done yet. Scanlon doubled to center field with one out, pinch runner Lucas Germer took third on a passed ball, then scored when Vanoudenhagen singled to center to make it 6-4.

But none of that slowed the Wildcats. In the sixth, now facing Central reliever Scanlon, Kyle Henderson was hit by a pitch to open the sixth, and senior designated hitter Ryan Susnow then tied the game when he bounced a homer off the top of the left-center field fence and over to make it 6-6.

'It felt good. It felt really good off the bat, but I didn't think I got enough power on it,' said Susnow, who went 1-for-4 at the plate, scored once and drove in two. 'I heard the small roar when the hit went off, then I heard the big one, and I was 'Oh. That must be a home run.' It was amazing.'

And Westview was not done yet, not done with its offensive onslaught, not done with home runs, and not done with the best season in Wildcat history.

Belding set the Rams down in order in the bottom of the sixth, and the Wildcats' offensive momentum carried over big-time into the top of the seventh.

Belding jumpstarted things there with a double off the right field wall, Central Catholic chose to walk Kelly intentionally, and brought Johnson to the plate. Johnson made the final at-bat of his storied high school career a keeper, drilling a 2-1 Scanlon pitch over the left-field fence for a three-run homer that turned out to provide the winning runs in the game.

'I didn't have it on the mound today, but I came out swinging the stick good, probably the best I did all year and we came out winning the game which makes it even better,' said Johnson, who went 2-for-4, scored twice and drove in four.

Johnson 'won the game with his stick,' Antich said. 'When he starts hitting and he feels good, he just crushes the baseball.'

He also crushed the Rams in the process. Belding allowed a one-out single to Scanlon in the bottom of the seventh, but no more, striking out Brakebush for the second out, then getting Bluhm on a liner to Bradley at second to end the game.

'This is the first big-time state trophy our school has had,' said Glasgow, who went 3-for-3, scored once and drove in one. 'I'm so proud of all these guys.'

'It was wonderful,' Susnow said. 'Most of us have been playing together since we were 10 years old and we just kept with it. We just had so much confidence and we did it.'

'We were able to pull it out and I'm just happy for our guys. I love 'em all,' said Kelly, who went 2-for-3, scored twice and drove in two.

'They put together some good at-bats and they wanted it,' Antich added. 'There was no question - they wanted it and they were going to take it.'