Sheldon put the first run on the scoreboard, but it was four innings of silence that doomed the Irish in a 6-2 loss to No. 2-ranked Clackamas in the 6A baseball semifinals Tuesday.
Sheldon struck first when Dylan Hansen hit a two-out single through the ride side to bring teammate Nick Dorsing across the plate. Clackamas starter Caden Hennessy struck out the next batter.
The Irish wouldn't hold the upper hand for long.
Casey Peterson got on out of the lead-off spot for Clackamas when his bouncer sneaked under the second baseman's glove. Bubba Jaha followed with a single to left field, and Greg Mehlhaff hammered one through the middle for a two-run double.
"Starting fast is something we've been doing throughout the playoffs," Mehlhaff said. "They put one on us, but it was really huge for us to bring the momentum back to our side."
Grant Schoen delivered a sacrifice ground ball that scored Mehlhaff, giving the Cavaliers a 3-1 lead that it would not surrender.
"We just told the team to go out and win that inning, and they kids responded to that challenge well," Cavaliers' head coach John Arnston said.
Clackamas had a chance to break the game open after Mehlhaff drew a four-ball walk to load the bases in the second inning. But Irish starter Josh Vitus reached over his head to glove a high hopper for the third out to escape unharmed.
Sheldon went quiet through the middle innings, which saw Clackamas retired 12 consecutive batters.
Jaha and Mehlhaff got it started with a 1-2-3 inning in the third, finishing it with Mehlhaff lunging to his left to snag a waist-high hopper before making the throw across the infield.
"We were just super focused, trying to get into position to play for the title," Jaha said. "Our pitcher was getting us ground balls, and we were getting the outs."
"I had some mojo going," Hennessy said. "I felt confident out there and competed the best I could."
The Irish appeared to have a chance to break up the hitless spell in the fourth inning when Zach Diehl clipped the top half of the ball for a ball that died about 20 feet in front of the plate. But Clackamas catcher Jordan Mambaje was quick to his feet and fired a throw down the line that saw first baseman K.C. Reilly stretch out his glove and snag the ball off the bounce for the third out.
"They scored first and we responded," Reilly said. "We put five straight zeroes on the board, and heading into our final at-bats we said 'Hey, it's time for us to finish this'."
Reilly would help Clackamas deliver on that resolution with a single to right field to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Pinch-runner Jack Kelly quickly found himself at third base after pinch-hitter Ryan Ahlstrom delivered a two-strike sacrifice bunt. Hennessy was next up and sent a high hopper to the mound that came out of Vitus' glove, allowing Kelly to come home unchallenged.
In a rush to avenge his bobble, Vitus saw his throw to first go wild sending Hennessy moving along to second base.
The Irish called on its bullpen and had a chance to escape the inning, but Tanner Barrong pulled his foot from second base too soon, foiling a double-play chance. Jaha made them pay for the mistake by punching a single through the middle that scored pinch-runner Kyle Kirsch and Alex Claxton to stretch the margin to 6-1.
"Getting those runs in definitely made me more comfortable on the mound in the seventh," Hennessy said.
Sheldon's No 9-hitter Dylan Dudley came through with a lead-off single, and an error put the net hitter Dylan Hansen on base.
But the Irish would not get the tying run out of the dugout.
Back-to-back strikeouts by Hennessy put the Cavaliers on verge of victory, and Mehlhaff sparked the celebration by snagging yet another ground ball on the left side to end the game.
"Coach (Tom) Bohlman is always hitting us sharp grounders, so we are always prepared for plays like that," Mehlhaff said. "It was just 100 percent focus — I'm so excited to get to Salem and to play one more game."
Reilly finished 2-for-3 at the plate, while Jaha also came up with multiple hits. Lead-off hitter Peterson reached base in three of his four at-bats — on an error, a single and a walk.
The Cavaliers take a 28-3 record into the 6A championship against No. 1-ranked West Linn (27-4) to be played at 5 p.m. Saturday at Volcanoes Stadium in Salem-Keizer.
"These kids just find ways to win ball games," Arnston said. "We always seem to have someone new stepping up — it's a fun group to be around."
"Playing for the title means everything to us," Jaha said. "It's why we were practicing in the rain back in January — we want this."
View photos from the semifinal game at daveball.exposuremanager.com.