As the son of a coach, Tyler Antich has seen all sorts of one-run losses and wins throughout his life — the ones that sit in your memory forever, the indelible white-knuckle playoff defeats and triumphs that come to define a season.
As a player, Antich has twice been on the wrong side of such a high-wire act — two years ago when Westview lost to Jesuit in the Class 6A semifinals and again this past spring in a 2-1 quarterfinal fallback to Clackamas. The Cavalier loss, specifically, stood out not because the Wildcats played poorly but because they created plenty of chances to cash in and couldn't seal the deal against the eventual state champs.
And so, as Antich stepped to the plate in the Oregon Independent Baseball Association quarterfinals against 6A state runner-up West Linn in the bottom of the seventh, with two outs, the game tied at 0-0 and Josh Moreno standing on third base, the rising senior made sure Westview (Robinson Construction) wouldn't wane in the big moment.
Looking at a 3-1 count, Antich batted a West Linn fastball back up the box over the drawn-in infield for the game-winning single on July 21 for the 1-0 win to send Westview on to the semifinals against Lincoln. The Wildcats beat the Cardinals 7-1 in the semis. Without the services of seniors Willie Weiss (the reigning Metro Player of the Year) third baseman Mante Woods (honorable mention All-Metro) and indispensable catcher Carter Sakamato, all of whom are playing club ball this summer, Westview still reached the OIBA championship game and beat a trio of elite programs to get there.
"This is a team full of bulldogs," Westview outfielder Keegan Huey-Woods said. "Going into this summer we knew we'd have to step it up without (Weiss, Woods and Sakamoto). And without those guys that automatically put us in the position of underdogs. We'd knew we'd have to scrap and claw and today was a good example of that. There's a new dynamic on this team. The chemistry is way better. We go into every game expecting to win."
As the Metro shapes up to be a sort of arms race with Sunset winning the OIBA title and Jesuit and Southridge returning loads of ability around the diamond, close ballgames figure to be prevalent in 2018.
"We're realizing you don't need a lot of talent, just a lot of heart to get the big wins," Antich said. "Our young guys are getting the experience in these big-pressure, playoff situations."
The contest was a well-played, extremely well-pitched duel between Westview's Jacob Cox and West Linn's Zach Anderson. The righty hurlers kept the game scoreless throughout by pumping in strikes and letting their veteran-laden defenses do work behind them. In the bottom of the third Westview put runners on first and second with singles from Huey Woods and Antich. But the Wildcats hit a tailor made double play ball to West Linn shortstop Jonathan Lewis, who shoveled the pill to the Lion second baseman James Marshall, who turned the inning-ending twin killing.
In the bottom of the sixth, Westview's Bo Willoughby walked and stole second. Subsequently, the Wildcats hit a grounder back up the middle, but Marshall ranged to his right, gloved the ball and got an off balance, but accurate throw to JJ Hoover at first baseball for the out. Willoughby, meanwhile, aggressively rounded third and made a break for home, but Hoover side-armed a seed to Lion catcher Micah Gibson, who slammed the tag on the sliding Willoughby for the inning-ending double play.
"Being in those games will be a big help for us down the road, just getting used to the intensity and the pressure of the playoffs," Anderson said. "In single elimination, you have to leave it all out there. When all of our guys are here I feel like we have a really good group and could make a big push next year."
Anderson pounded the strike zone, kept the ball low and located his fastball. He and Gibson worked well in tandem and didn't let Westview get into any sort of groove at the dish.
"We've been pitcher-catcher for a long time, so we know each other well and know each other's tendencies," Gibson said.
Cox's curveball kept the Lions' hitters out in front and unable to muster the sort of solid swings needed to get on base. West Linn put runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, but Cox and his ultra-confident defense danced out of the jam to set up Antich's heroics. The senior pitched a complete game shutout for the victory. Anderson threw six innings and got the no-decision.
"He's something special," Huey-Woods said of Cox. "He's a lot of fun to watch. He knows how to locate and he's got a lot of great pitches. He was composed the whole time and never got down from inning one to inning seven. He was just going to keep dealing."