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Indians realize impossible dream in finals berth

Handful of seniors have a chance for two state titles this season

JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Tribe senior Robby Backus receives the scorching end of a rocket throw from right field, courtesy of junior JD Wack, in the bottom of the fifth inning. Backus made the tag at home plate, helping to hold Gladstone scoreless in the Class 4A semifinals.The waning moments of Tuesday's showdown with Gladstone were extra special for one Scappoose senior. Robby Backus will graduate on Saturday afternoon, but not before accomplishing a dream he never imagined would be possible: playing for the second state title of his senior year.

“I never thought that I'd be able to play for a state championship, and then we did in basketball. And I never thought we'd be able to do it again,” Backus said after the Indians polished off Gladstone 2-0 in the 4A semifinals. “It's just crazy. We're going to take every moment of it and we're just going to have fun.”

Scappoose will tangle with Henley on Saturday morning at Volcanoes Stadium north of Salem, battling for the fourth state title in program history and the first since 2010. The Indians reached the title game behind a solid performance from senior pitcher Owen Fortney, whose complete game shutout led Scappoose to the sixth title game appearance since 1968.

Related: Previewing Saturday's 4A baseball title game

JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Scappoose senior Owen Fortney stares down a runner at second base during the Indians' 2-0 win over Gladstone on Tuesday evening. Fortney struck out five batters in the victory for Scappoose.“Cream rises to the top,” Tribe head coach Robert Medley said. “It's a saying that's been used forever, and Owen Fortney has been our guy all year, and he competes. All our guys compete. Owen can throw three pitches when he's on, and you guys saw the game.”

Fortney allowed five hits, but struck out five batters and gave up a walk in seven lights-out innings. Fortney's performance was highlight-filled, not the least of which being a handful of plays in the bottom of the fifth when Fortney and the defense were tested and came up big.

The fifth inning was the Gladiators' most productive frame, as sophomore Darnell Washington took a pitch to the shoulder to reach base and was replaced by Damian Alvarado. Gladstone batted Alvarado to second, and then managed to put runners on the corners after sophomore Logan Saltares singled to right field — or so it seemed.

Saltares dropped a line drive into shallow right field, just out of reach of Tribe junior JD Wack. Instead of looking to make the catch, Wack nabbed the ball on the bounce and fired in the direction of home plate. The catch was so late the scorebook has Saltaras down for a single and Alvarado advancing to third, but Alvarado didn't stop there.

Backus stepped up to defend the plate, caught a rocket from right field and, stretching to his left, tagged Alvarado as he attempted to dive in for the score.

The play brought the visiting crowd — a sizable contingent, even compared to the home supporters — to their feet, but more importantly provided the extra momentum the Indians needed for the final two innings. Fortney stepped up and struck out the next batter, stranding a runner on third and ending Gladstone's rally in one fell swoop.

While it was Backus who eventually made the tag-out, a highlight play rested on the arm of Wack for the second game in a row. Wack made the same throw in the Indians' win over Molalla in the quarterfinals a few days earlier to much the same reaction.

“Halfway through the season we realized that JD has a pretty good cannon,” Backus said. “Those were the first two times we were actually able to utilize it. They were just good plays. We practice going home all the time, and to finally do it in a game and show it off, it's pretty nice. It gets the fans going; it gets our team going.”

But even in the few minutes ahead of Wack's show-stopper, the game never shifted in Gladstone's favor — at least as far as Fortney was concerned. Fortney had a no-hitter going through three and two-thirds innings until a single in the bottom of the fourth gave the Gladiators their first base runner. Scappoose doubled their lead in the top of the fifth on an RBI single from Wyatt Patton, and Gladstone seemed primed to respond.

The bottom of the fifth was one of two times in the game in which Gladstone managed to get two runners in play at once, but the sudden apparent departure from a dominant defensive effort never shook Fortney or the Indians' fortitude.

“Guys got on base — guys at third, guys at second. Nothing ever rattles him,” Medley said. “He just doesn't get rattled. That's why he's as good as he is, because things don't get to him.”

The game plan was simple, and one which had been in place since the first day of the season: pitching and defense. The hits will come. After the game, Fortney echoed a statement made by Medley before preseason began in which Medley said the idea was to throw strikes, pound the zone and play defense.

“Just come out and throw strikes,” Fortney said. “I know my defense is going to back me up, so put the ball in the strike zone and let my defense make plays for me.”

Scappoose finished with just one error, and not a mistake which ended up costing them. Gladstone, on the other hand, made two — one of which came on the opening play of the game.

Jake Ford led off, hitting a pop fly into shallow center field. The popup was dropped, allowing Ford to reach first base. Ford was batted around by sacrifices from Wyatt Patton and Hunter Holmason, and eventually stole home on a wild pitch for the go-ahead run.

Such was the mindset going into the semifinal game: stay solid on the defensive end, and wait for the opponent to make a mistake. The team wasn't flustered when the game was pushed back by an hour, nor were they shaken up by the final result of the regular season: a tough loss to Astoria.

Even with graduation looming on Saturday after the championship game and questions arising about whether the seniors — including Backus, who is the school's valedictorian — would be able to walk in the graduation ceremony.

Things worked out poetically. The rain held off on Tuesday night in Gladstone, the sting of losses to Astoria was wiped away and graduation was moved from 1 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. in an effort to make sure the team's 11 seniors could attend.

The only question remaining is whether Backus has enough space in his bedroom for two trophies.


OSAA Semifinals

Scappoose 2, Gladstone 0

SCAP 100 010 0 — 2 4 1

GLAD 000 000 0 0 5 2

Runs-hits-RBIs: Ford 1-0-0, Patton 0-1-1, Fortney 0-1-0, Millar 0-1-0, Backus 0-1-0, Toman 1-0-0


Hits-strikeouts: W-Fortney 5-5; L-Telmanivh 4-5