Baseball: Wilsonville handles adversity during state quarterfinals win over Lebanon
Though they didn't endure a gut-punching seventh inning comeback, like in their first round win over Summit, the Wildcats faced marked adversity during their state quarterfinals contest against Lebanon Friday, May 26
Wilsonville trailed at the midway point of the game, faced consistent pressure from Lebanon's lineup and struggled to hit pitcher Cody Johnson's curveballs early on.
But the Wildcats produced outs in key situations defensively, manufactured hits in high leverage scenarios on offense and turned a two-run deficit into a convincing advantage.
In turn, the No. 5 Wildcats beat No. 13 Lebanon 6-2 to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 2013.
"It's amazing. It's a great feeling, having fun with all of the guys, it being senior year and especially with coach Card. He's done a really great job. It's been a blast," Wilsonville center fielder Kristjen Mertes said of the team's playoff run.
Wilsonville will travel to Churchill to take on the No. 1 Lancers in the state semifinals Tuesday, May 30 at 5 p.m.
Wilsonville starting pitcher Gage Gloster, who helped save the Wildcats season with spotless relief innings during the first round game just two days prior, struggled to find the strike zone early.
The Wilsonville senior gave up one walk in the first inning, three walks in the second inning and beamed two batters through the first four innings.
However, although Lebanon's Antonio Medina singled to opposite field with the bases loaded to give the Warriors a 2-0 lead in the second inning, Gloster left multiple Lebanon runners stranded in all of the first three innings and one runner stranded in the fourth inning.
Gloster says he tried to clear his head and focus on his pitching mechanics during rough spells.
"I felt like I was ready for the game today. I just didn't have my stuff. It was really hard for me to focus and throw strikes. Later in the game it motivated me more when they got those two runs," Gloster said.
Wilsonville's offense took until the third inning to challenge Johnson.
Then, Mertes sent a shallow fly ball to right field for a single, eventually reached third base and Carter drove him home via a sacrifice fly.
Johnson breezed through the fourth inning — until an error at first base began another fruitful inning for Wilsonville.
With two outs, Halden Bjornson reached first base via an error and Johnson beamed Camden Crystal.
The Lebanon pitcher then threw a hanging curveball and Mertes made him pay — lifting the ball to deep right center field for a triple to give Wilsonville a 3-2 lead.
"I knew he was going to throw me a first pitch curveball. I just saw it right away and jumped on it," Mertes said.
In the fifth inning, Wilsonville third baseman Drake Carter pulverized a pitch to deep center field for a triple and second baseman Adam Stevens' grounder drove him home.
Meanwhile, Gloster converted five consecutive outs in the fifth and sixth innings.
But after Clyde Rood walked and Kevin Crowell singled with two outs, Card replaced the Wilsonville senior with Alex Coleman.
Card graded Gloster's stuff poorly but commended his resolve.
"I'd give him a D- on his stuff. I've seen him throw 100 times better but when you grind it out and you show people how competitive you are and you trust your defense great things happen," Card said.
After Coleman beamed Medina to load the bases. Adam Rappe had a chance to send home at least one run with a base hit. But Coleman's breaking ball whizzed by Rappe for strike three to move the Wildcats within three outs of victory.
"Alex has done a great job all year coming in and getting the job done. He competes just like the rest of our staff. He came in clutch. He beared down and got after Rappe, their best player, and he showed the competitive spirit and aggressiveness that he has in him," Card said.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Johnson beamed Crystal again and then Wilsonville shortstop Trevor Antonson and Carter drew a walks. In response, Lebanon replaced Johnson with Jakeb Cripe. Stevens swung on Cripe's first pitch and snuck the ball by the shortstop for a two-run double to give the Wildcats a 6-2 lead.
Johnson did not allow a hit through two innings but the Wildcats scored six runs on him by the end of the sixth inning.
"He threw a great game. He was firm, in the zone, working both sides of the plate with the curveball. We just kept fighting and grinding. We knew sooner or later we'd get to him or get to his pitch count. That was our hope," Card said.
Coleman allowed one single in the top of the seventh inning but retired the other three Lebanon batters to earn the save.
Wilsonville will face a Churchill team that holds an 18-3 record and won its first two playoff games by an average of seven runs. Card will give players some rest over Memorial Day weekend before practice on Monday. Gloster is proud of the accomplishment of reaching the state semifinals but motivated to keep the run going.
"I think it's amazing and I think we have a great team. Now we are going to focus on Churchill and bring it to them with everything we've got," he said.