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Forest Grove still battling for state playoff position

Vikings win two out of three last week to stay in a muddled GVC playoff race

West Salem is the cream of the Greater Valley Conference baseball crop this season.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD
 - Forest Grove's Austin Perini delivers a pitch during last Wednesday's Greater Valley Conference baseball game against McKay.

Everyone else? Well, they’re all about the same.

Just three games separate second place from eighth place in an every-man-for-himself postseason push that will see four teams from the GVC earn automatic passes to the Class 6A state playoffs. For the squads below that cutoff line, four at-large berths will be awarded to teams around the state based on the OSAA power rankings, followed by eight more teams advancing to the play-in round.

That means the GVC could be well-represented this postseason, but it could also mean that some of the league’s fringe teams wind up on the outside looking in.

Forest Grove won two of three contests last week to remain in the thick of a muddled playoff picture, with the Vikings sitting in seventh place — half a game ahead of eighth-place West Albany and just two and a half games behind second-place McMinnville.

The Vikings went on the road last Tuesday and beat West Albany 3-0, then came home and dismantled McKay 11-1 on Wednesday. The week ended with an 11-3 loss to McNary, but Forest Grove still improved to 8-15 overall and 6-8 in GVC play with two league games remaining — home versus South Salem today and McMinnville on Friday.

The Vikings will need to win both of those games to have a shot at landing in the top four, and will likely need both wins to improve their power ranking to a position worthy of a play-in berth. Currently, Forest Grove sits at No. 45 out of 49 teams, but South Salem ranks 18th and McMinnville checks in at 20th, giving the Vikings a chance to springboard up the rankings with a pair of upset victories.

Forest Grove got off to a strong start last week, shutting out West Albany (8-14, 5-8) on the road behind the pitching of Tanner Heikes and Ronnie Thompson. Heikes got the start and blanked the Bulldogs through 3.1 innings before giving way to Thompson, who allowed only two hits and struck out four the rest of the way.

Curtis Zamora pitched well for West Albany, striking out five and surrendering seven hits in a complete-game effort, but Forest Grove scratched out three unearned runs — one in the first inning and two more in the sixth — to secure the important league victory.

Aaron Cardinal and Vincent Beach had two hits apiece for the Vikings, while Marcus Estrada and Dakota Buckhannon each went 1-for-3 with an RBI. Cardinal and Buckhannon had the team’s only extra-base hits, with both players doubling.

Forest Grove got its bats going last Wednesday against McKay (4-17, 1-12), cranking out nine hits in the 11-1 win. The Vikings scored four times in the bottom of the first and then added a five-spot in the third to build an insurmountable lead. McKay got a single run back in the fourth inning, but Forest Grove ended the game early, scoring twice in the bottom of the sixth to activate the 10-run rule.

Beach had a big game, going 2-for-3 with two triples, two runs scored and two RBIs. Logan Trimble also tripled and scored a run, while Heikes doubled home a pair of runs. Cardinal went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, and Wyatt Andresen was 1-for-3 with two RBIs.

C.J. Friedman started on the mound for Forest Grove and struck out six batters while allowing one earned run in 3.2 innings. Austin Perini came on in relief and tossed 2.1 scoreless innings to pick up the win.

Coming off two big wins, the Vikings stumbled last Friday in an 11-3 loss to McNary (11-10, 7-6), a team they beat 4-0 the first time through GVC play.

Andresen started but gave up six runs — three earned — in one inning before giving way to Thompson, who surrendered three more runs as McNary built a 9-0 lead through three innings. Heikes pitched the final three innings and was tagged for two unearned runs.

Offensively, Forest Grove mustered just four hits and only one of the team’s runs was earned. Estrada was walked three times in four plate appearances and two of those came with the bases loaded, earning the senior a pair of unconventional RBIs. Heikes was 1-for-4 with an RBI, while Trimble, Cardinal and Tanner Mannen provided the Vikings’ other hits — all singles.

Today, Forest Grove will entertain South Salem at 5 p.m. at the high school. The Vikings will then host McMinnville on Friday at 5 o’clock.