Jaguars get bounced in the second round by the defending state champion Irish

EUGENE — Century’s unexpected postseason surge was stopped in its tracks last Wednesday by the defending state HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZACK PALMER - Century senior Nick LoBue throws a pitch during last Wednesday's Class 6A state playoff game against defending champion Sheldon.

Century, seeded 24th in the 32-team Class 6A baseball bracket, took out No. 9 Central Catholic in the first round of the playoffs last Monday, but could not recapture that magic in the second round against No. 8 Sheldon, as the Irish used a workmanlike effort to dispatch the Jaguars, 6-1.

“We knew we would be in a battle,” Century head coach Kyle Bunting said. “They’re the defending state champions for a reason. (Sheldon) hit the ball when they needed to and we didn’t. Simple as that.

“We have nothing to hang our heads about. They’re a good team and I thought we played them tough.”

Century (15-14) had a chance to strike first on Wednesday, but Zach Allen was thrown out at the plate in the second inning while trying to score on a groundout. An early run could have changed the complexion of the game, but instead it seemed to bolster Sheldon, which scored two runs in the bottom of the second to take a lead it would never relinquish.

“It was an aggressive play and we were kind of counting on them to make a mistake, but they didn’t,” Bunting said.

Sheldon (23-8) cobbled together the rest of its runs, scoring once in the fourth, once in the fifth and twice in the sixth to take control of the game.

The Irish went on to defeat Hillsboro in the semifinals, and they will look to defend their 6A state title on Saturday against No. 2 North Medford (26-4).

Century’s only run last Wednesday came in the top of the sixth, when Kyle Lennen hit a leadoff single to right field and Daniel Moore followed with a base hit up the middle. Josh Sundquist drove in Lennen with an RBI groundout, but Moore was thrown out trying to advance to third on the play, ending the inning and cutting short a potential rally.

Still, Bunting said he was pleased with the way the Jaguars carried themselves throughout the game.

“There was no panic ever,” he said. “Even in the top of the seventh, down 6-1, you looked in the dugout and there were no kids hanging their heads. Everyone was still into the game and cheering each other on.

“This team was so even-keel emotionally all season. I think that really carried them.”

The Jaguars honed their emotional resilience by playing in an astonishing number of close games. Of Century’s 29 games this spring, 20 of them were decided by four runs or fewer, and the Jags went 10-6 in games that were decided by three runs or less.

Bunting said he first knew this team was capable of something special when Century won three close games in a row to capture a title at the Glencoe Spring Break Tournament in March.

“We recognized this group had something going for them when we won that spring break tournament,” Bunting said. “I was like, ‘Hey, this team is learning how to win close games. Maybe we’ve got something here.’”

Led by nine seniors — including Allen, Moore, Sundquist, Nick LoBue, Marcos Hernandez, Jaylen Martes, Nate Rau, Sam Bates and Elijah Nguyen — the Jaguars were rarely out of contention, and they picked up some signature wins along the way, like a 6-4 triumph over Pacific Conference champion and state semifinalist Tualatin, or last Monday’s 5-4 playoff victory against Central Catholic.

“This senior class set the tone,” Bunting said. “We want to win games, but we have to focus on doing things the right way. They definitely did things the right way.”

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