Horizon falls to Pleasant Hill in back-and-forth title contest

by: DAN BROOD - TROPHY TIME -- The Horizon Christian High School baseball team gathers with the Class 3A second-place trophy following Friday's state championship game played at Volcanoes Stadium. The Hawks were edged 7-6 in eight innings by Pleasant Hill. KEIZER — Big plays.

There were plenty of then.

The Horizon Christian High School baseball team made big plays.

So did the Pleasant Hill squad.

But, unfortunately for the Hawks, Pleasant Hill made the final big play — and that turned out to be the difference.

The Billies, getting the winning run on a squeeze bunt in the bottom of the eighth inning, got a 7-6 win over Horizon Christian in a back-and-forth battle of a Class 3A state championship game, played Friday at Volcanoes Stadium.

“You can’t ask for a better game,” Horizon Christian sophomore Trent Pihas said after the title contest. “It was unfortunate that we lost, but it was still a fun game. A suicide squeeze is tough to stop.”

“We came back, they came back,” Horizon senior pitcher Zack Selland said. “I thought we played great, and they’re a great club. It was a victory in our eyes that we made it here.”

“We came out and competed. We did the best we could,” Horizon senior outfielder Taylor Grimmett said. “I feel it was the best game we played all season. No regrets.”

Pleasant Hill, the No. 1 team out of the PacWest Conference, finished its season with a final overall record of 25-4. The Billies also claimed their first state championship since DAN BROOD - SCORING PLAY -- Horizon Christian High School senior Zack Selland (9) steals home on the front end of a double steal in the first inning of Friday's Class 3A state championship game.

Horizon Christian, the top team out of the West Valley League, finished its season with a final mark of 24-7.

“It’s been amazing,” Pihas said. “We bonded so close as a team. We played for God and each other.”

“It was a great season,” Selland said. “Last year, we went out of the playoffs early. But, inside our hats this year, we all wrote ‘unfinished business.’ I don’t think many people gave us a chance to get here.”

The Hawks got off to a roaring start to Friday’s state title tilt, as they scored three runs in the top of the first inning.

Horizon Christian junior leadoff hitter Kyle Esquerra was hit by a pitch to get the inning started. Pihas followed that with a bunt single and senior Willie Brucker walked on four pitches to load the bases with no outs.

Selland then hit into a fielder’s choice, with Esquerra scoring on the play to give the Hawks a quick 1-0 advantage. Sophomore Colton Cosner then singled to right field, driving in Pihas to make the score 2-0.

Selland then scored on the front end of a double steal, upping the early margin to 3-0.

But the Pleasant Hill came storming back in its half of the first. The Billies loaded the bases with one out in the frame. Senior Bruce Gibeau then drew a walk, bringing in senior Garrett Davis for Pleasant Hill’s first run of the game.

Junior Chase Stowell was then hit by a pitch, bringing home another run, and senior Parker Smith scored on a sacrifice fly by senior Tanner Olson to tie the game at 3-3 at the end of the opening frame.

The teams stayed deadlocked at 3-3 until the bottom of the third inning, when Pleasant Hill pushed a run across the plate. Smith hit a one-out double to center field and he then scored on a single by Gibeau to give the Billies a 4-3 lead.

by: DAN BROOD - SAFE AT SECOND -- Horizon Christian High School senior Taylor Grimmett (left) looks up after hitting an RBI double in the fifth inning of Friday's Class 3A state championship game. Pleasant Hill got another run in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Davis scored on a single by Gibeau, to up its lead to 5-3.

But the two-run deficit didn’t seem to bother the Hawks.

“We’ve never been afraid of having to come from behind,” Brucker said.

Horizon Christian, which had to come back from a 3-0 deficit to get a 6-3 semifinal win over Bandon/Pacific, rallied in a big way in the top of the fifth inning of Friday’s state title tilt.

Esquerra singled to center field to lead off the frame for the Hawks. Pihas followed with a single to right field, with Esquerra moving to third base on the play. Esquerra then scored on a groundout by Brucker to cut the lead to 5-4.

Selland followed with an RBI single to center field, with Pihas scoring on the hit to tie the game at 5-5. The Hawks then took their first lead since the first inning when Selland scored on Grimmett’s two-out double down the left-field line, giving Horizon Christian a 6-5 lead.

With the Hawks still holding a 6-5 lead, Pleasant Hill put together a threat in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Billies had runners on second and third base with two outs in the inning, but Selland, Horizon’s starting pitcher, struck out Gibeau on three pitches to end the threat.

The Hawks then put together a threat of their own in the top of the seventh inning. Selland singled with one out in the frame and Cosner followed with a walk, but they were left stranded.

In the bottom of the seventh, Pleasant Hill got a one-out single from senior Tanner Olson. Selland then got Mitchell Williamson to pop out to Pihas at third base for the second out of the frame. But the Billies didn’t fold, as junior Dillon Ritchie tripled off the fence in right field, driving in pinch runner Chad Way to tie the game at 6-6 and send the contest to extra innings.

by: DAN BROOD - DIGGING FOR THIRD -- Horizon Christian junior Kyle Esquerra turns hard for third base in the in the fifth inning of Friday's Class 3A state championship game played at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer. The Hawks were edged 7-6 by Pleasant Hill. Esquerra singled with two outs in the top of the eighth inning, and he stole second, but the Hawks weren’t able to drive him in.

In the bottom of the eighth, a walk, a single and an intentional walk (coming with runners on second and third), loaded the bases for Pleasant Hill with no outs. Brucker, pitching in relief, struck out Gibeau for the first out of the inning. But Davis scored on a squeeze bunt by Stowell for the game-winning run.

“That’s how baseball goes,” Brucker said. “Both teams played their hearts out.”

“It’s always more fun to win,” Horizon Christian coach Alex Esquerra said. “But we played very well. We decided at the beginning to give it our all. There are no regrets. It was a privilege to be here.”

“We started hot, then let them back,” Grimmett said. “After that, we battled and battled.”

Horizon Christian pounded out 12 hits in the contest.

Pihas led the hitting attack, going 3 for 5 at the plate with a pair of runs scored. Kyle Esquerra went 2 for 4 with two runs scored. Selland went 2 for 4 at the plate with two runs scored, two RBIs and three stolen bases. Sophomore Nate McGill went 2 for 4 in the contest. Cosner, Grimmett and junior Mitch Sheldon added one hit apiece.

Selland pitched the first seven innings for the Hawks. He gave up 11 hits while stroking out five and walking two.

For Pleasant Hill, Smith went 3 for 3 at the plate with two runs scored and an RBI. Senior Jackson Bertsch went 3 for 5 with a run scored and Davis went 2 for 3 with three runs scored. Ritchie, in addition to having the key triple with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, was also the winning pitcher, working in relief for the Billies.

Other members of the Horizon Christian baseball program include senior David Lindsay; juniors Camden Muller and Samson Schweiger; sophomores Koby Pearson, Trevor Tillema, Michael Allen, Mitchell McKinney, Yashiki Azumaya and Ty Knisley; and freshmen Jarrod Ludwick, Ben Rose, Noah Lubben, Mike Jones, Colton LaVelle, Jack Klein, Zach Tillema, Weston Groth and Jacob Nelson. Ray Pearson is the team’s assistant coach.

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