Baseball: Tigard rallies strong, but Tualatin comes away with the 4-2 playoff victory
by: DAN BROOD RIVALS – Tualatin senior Kevin O’Connor (3) takes a swing while Tigard senior catcher Trevor Nix gets ready to grab the ball in last week’s state playoff game.

OREGON CITY - It had everything a rivalry game should have.

And, with it also being a state playoff match up, it may have had even more.

There were two squads, giving it their all. There was good, solid play from both sides. There was plenty of excitement and plenty of clutch plays and key moments.

And, after it was all said and done, there was one team disappointed, but still proud, and one team celebrating a hard-fought victory over its rival.

Tualatin was the team left celebrating as it fought its way to a 4-2 victory over Tigard in a Class 6A state playoff second-round baseball game played May 25 at Oregon City High.

'Both sides played hard,' said Tualatin senior center fielder Kevin O'Connor, who had three hits for the Wolves in the win. 'It definitely was a battle. This is the most fun I've ever had. It was one of my favorite games.'

'It's always fun to compete with them,' Tualatin senior second baseman Corey VanDomelen said. 'This game was a lot of fun and a good battle. They played a good game and so did we.'

Tigard, the No. 3 team out of the Pacific Conference, finished its season with a final overall record of 19-10.

'It was a good season. We were pretty successful,' Tigard senior outfielder Drew Morris said. 'We had good offense, our defense was solid and our pitchers stepped up. And the whole team got along well.'

Tualatin, the Pacific Conference co-champion, improved to 22-6 on the season at that point with the win, its 16th straight.

'I'm so proud of these kids,' Tualatin coach Matt Unis said.

Tualatin jumped out to a quick lead in last week's game, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning.

Junior Nathan Suyematsu got things started for the Wolves in the opening frame with a leadoff single to center field. Junior Travis Johnson followed with a single to right.

One out later, O'Connor doubled to left-center field, driving in Suyematsu with the first run of the game. Johnson then scored on a sacrifice fly by senior Rick Bettinelli, giving Tualatin an early 2-0 lead.

'That sparked us right away,' O'Connor said.

Tigard came back to cut the Tualatin lead in half with a run in the top of the third inning. Junior Hikaru Mizuno got things going for the Tigers with a one-out single to left field. Mizuno then moved up to second base on a wild pitch and then scored on sophomore Ryan Bickel's single to right field, cutting the margin to 2-1.

Tigard threatened again in the top of the fourth inning, getting a one-out double by Morris and an intentional walk issued to senior Kyler Garcia. But Johnson, pitching for the Wolves, got bunt out and a pop out to end the inning.

But the Tigers wouldn't be denied in the top of the fifth.

Tigard senior Spencer Smith reached base on a Tualatin fielding error with two outs in the inning. Senior Eric Najdek then tripled to right field, driving in Smith to tie the game at 2-2.

Now, it was Tualatin's turn to answer back.

Junior Matt Miller drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning for the Wolves. Suyematsu followed with a bunt single, putting runners on first and second.

The runners each moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Johnson. Miller then scored the go-ahead run for Tualatin when Tigard was called for a balk. Suyematsu then scored on a sacrifice fly by VanDomelen, giving Tualatin a 4-2 lead.

Junior right-hander Nick Bland took over the pitching duties for the Wolves in the top of the sixth. He gave up a leadoff single to Morris to start the sixth, but he then put down the next six Tigard batters he faced in order to wrap up Tualatin's 4-2 victory.

'We live to play another game,' VanDomelen said. 'We had so much energy in the dugout, and we played Tualatin baseball - being selfless and sacrifice yourself for the team.'

'We wanted it bad,' Morris said. 'We were pumped up to play our rivals. We felt like we had our chances, but we couldn't put a string of hits together.'

Johnson picked up the pitching victory for Tualatin. In five innings or work, he gave up two runs on six hits while striking out four and walking one. Bland got the save with his two innings or work on the mound.

'Nick Bland is the X-factor for us,' Unis said. 'He's made big pitches for us all year.'

Tualatin, as a team, had seven hits. Suyematsu and O'Connor each had a pair of hits while Travis Johnson, Miller and senior Taylor Johnson added one hit apiece.

Mizuno and Morris each had two hits for Tigard. Senior Trevor Nix, Bickel and Najdek each had one hit. Bickel, a left-hander, pitched the distance.

The loss marked the final high school game for Tigard seniors Najdek, Morris, Nix, Smith, Eric Sieg and Garcia.

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