St. Helens baseball erupts for key win over Milwaukie
On Senior Day, the St. Helens baseball team made sure there will be a Play-In day for the Lions.
Down 3-0, St. Helens erupted for 10 late runs and a 10-3 victory at home Wednesday over Milwaukie.
It was a wild finish full of dramatic moments, including senior pinch-hitter Cody Leanna's two-out, three-run single that put St. Helens ahead 4-3, and an inside-the-park home run by senior captain David Parks.
All of which helped make a winner of senior right-hander Kyle Harris, who was masterful in six innings.
"It was awesome," Harris said of the win. "Couldn't ask for anything better."
St. Helens coach Jeff Timmons called it a "must-win" situation for the Lions, who now don't have to win their final regular-season game, set for 5 p.m. Friday at Milwaukie.
"It's nice not having to seal it (a postseason berth) on the last day," Timmons said. "Friday can be more relaxed now. I plan to use every one of my pitchers and get them some work, and get us ready for the play-in game."
That will come on Friday, May 18, with St. Helens likely traveling to Hood River Valley.
The Lions probably will finish as the No. 6 team in the Northwest Oregon Conference, and they are ranked 22nd in Class 5A by the Oregon School Activities Association. HRV is No. 2 in the Columbia River Conference and 12th in the Class 5A rankings.
The two teams haven't played this season, but Hood River Valley lost in March to NWOC members Wilsonville (7-3) and Sandy (4-2). St. Helens was 0-3 against both teams.
"But I like our shot," Timmons said of the Play-In game. "If we play like we did tonight (against Milwaukie), we have a good shot at beating anybody."
On Wednesday, the final regular-season home game for the St. Helens seniors, it looked for a while like the bounces just weren't going to go the Lions way. Some hard ground balls to second base by Milwaukie and some unfortunate hops helped the Mustangs score an unearned run in the fourth inning for a 1-0 lead and get two more runs in the fifth.
But Mustangs junior pitcher Kaden Middleton began to come back to earth and the Lions took advantage.
In the bottom of the fifth, senior Owen Wolfe led off with a walk, Harris singled him to third, sophomore Joe Rea walked and Parks drove in a run with a single that kept the bases loaded.
In came Leanna to pinch hit, with two outs.
"I was feeling the pressure — probably the worst I've ever felt," Leanna said. "I was shaking. The blood was pumping. But I got the job done."
He did that by going up in the strike zone to drill an 0-1 pitch into left-center field. Harris, Rea and Parks all scored — and St. Helens had a 4-3 lead.
"Cody has really delivered and been a really good contact hitter for us all year," Timmons said. "In a tough situtation, he's a senior, he can take the pressure. I have good faith in Cody.
"I told him that if we got in a big spot today, he was going to get an at-bat. He loves that role."
Leanna, who also has played football and wrestled for the Lions, said he was "just coming in and doing my job, to hit the ball where I can and move people around."
To get such a clutch hit on Senior Day, and with a Play-In spot on the line, "means the world to me," he said. "Doing this for the team means a lot. I'll remember this forever."
The game wasn't over, of course, but one inning later, it basically was, because the Lions came back to bat in the bottom of the sixth and rang up six more runs against the Milwaukie bullpen.
Junior Chris Beatty led off with a single and went to second on a sacrifice by Wolfe. Harris hit to right to score Beatty. After junior Justin Olson was hit by a pitch, Rea whacked the ball into center field, scoring two runs for a 7-3 lead.
Then it was Parks going to the opposite field and turning it into an in-the-park home run after the ball rolled to the fence. He beat the relay throw home from the second baseman fairly easily, though perhaps it wasn't as easy as it looked.
"I thought I was stopping at third for a triple so I started slowing down, but Timmons kept waving me," Parks said. "I was running out of gas running home."
Senior Joey Binam finished the scoring with a sacrifice fly, Rea pitched the seventh and the Lions then celebrated with a postgame pizza as part of the Senior Day festivities.
"We didn't want to lose," Parks said of the big comeback.
"A good feeling for all of us," Leanna said.
Harris struck out five of the first nine batters he faced and had first-pitch strikes to 19 of 29 Milwaukie hitters. He said his plan was to "go right at 'em. Get ahead in the count. Try to get ground balls."
"Kyle took about a week and a half off and didn't throw much because he had a little elbow tenderness, but he looked phenomenal today," Timmons said.
So did Middleton, until "he ran out of steam," Milwaukie coach Bud Taylor said. "He threw 106 pitches a week ago and he just hasn't recovered all the way."
The loss knocked the Mustangs out of postseason contention. Milwaukie fell to 3-13 in league play and 5-17 overall; St. Helens is 5-11 in NWOC play and 6-16 overall going into Friday's finales.
"We knew this was going to be a tough, intense game," Taylor said. "'Tims' always does a really good job with his kids. They started hitting our guy, made a run and then kind of shut us down — and that was the ballgame."
A key for the Lions was taking Timmons' advice and looking for pitches to hit to right field.
"Their pitcher was running out of gas," Parks said. "The second or third time through the lineup everyone kind of figured him out and got our timing down and decided we were going to go opposite field and start trying to drive the ball that way instead of trying to pull it."
Timmons said Parks' inside-the-park home run was a perfect example of using the logistics and conditions.
"David does a great job hitting the ball hard the other way, and I've stressed for as long as I can remember that we need to hit the ball the other way at our park," Timmons said. "The wind blows in from left field and the ball travels really well down the right-field line, and if you hit it hard that way, it's deep out there."
Timmons said he hasn't decided whether to schedule a practice game before the postseason. On one hand, his team could use some rest after playing 14 games in 23 days, including Friday.
One thing he said he'll have the Lions do, though, is work on those ground balls.
"Those are plays we know we need to make," he said. "We pride ourselves on playing on our field. The ground is a little hard and the ball hops funny, but we have to be better about attacking the baseball. We were sitting and waiting. We'll work on that.
"But we made the plays when we had to. And to turn it on like we did today, on Senior Day, was pretty special. The hits got contagious. Everybody stepped up and got the ball rolling. Everybody put the ball in play or made a play in the field."