Baseball: No. 2 North Marion rallies for 8-2 victory over Crook County in first round
Staring up at a 2-1 deficit to the Crook County Cowboys in the fifth inning of last week's first round state playoff game, the No. 2 North Marion baseball team was cool as a cucumber.
Sure, the Huskies hadn't played in nearly two weeks, while Crook County was already battle-tested, having upset the No. 10 Ontario Tigers in the play-ins to earn a date with the Huskies at Bob Brack Stadium on May 23.
But this is playoff baseball, and that means anything can — and will — happen. You just have to be ready to respond when it does.
"We weren't panicked at all," North Marion senior Bryce Lemon said. "It's baseball; you're going to be down. We knew it was going to happen at some point, and it's going to happen again, so we just have to gather ourselves and come back to get the win."
The Huskies responded in emphatic fashion in the bottom of the inning, taking advantage of a few miscues by the Cowboys to break open the game with a bases loaded-clearing double from Lemon, turning the tide in North Marion's favor en route to an 8-2 victory.
"We had talked that we are going to be behind in these playoffs, because they're all good teams," Huskies Head Coach Randy Brack said. "Now the records and the rankings mean absolutely nothing, because if they're still playing, they're pretty stinking good."
The team's pivotal fifth-inning rally came about due to some big base-running moments from Nic Iliyn, who beat out a throw to first on one of three bunts-turned-hits by the junior outfielder to put runners on first and second.
Following a strikeout from junior Grant Henry for the team's second out, sophomore Isaac Hansen hit a grounder to the Crook County shortstop, who didn't look to tag Noah Vachter streaking toward third base and instead tried to make the out at second. But Iliyn beat that throw as well, loading the bases and bringing the North Marion dugout to a fever pitch.
"Holy cow, that kind of changed things a little bit," Brack said. "That kind of cracked it open, and then the inning went south for them."
From there, junior Griffin Henry drew a walk, bringing in Vachter to tie the game at 2-2. Lemon followed, driving the fourth pitch he saw over the shoulder of the leftfielder, who misplayed the ball, allowing Iliyn, Hansen and Ryan Olson — who replaced Griffin Henry on the base paths — to all score on the play with Lemon left standing on second base.
"I hit two grounders early in the inning," Lemon said. "It's those two grounders that get me that hit. Staying disciplined and try to hit the ball on the ground hard."
Sophomore Brady Hansen added a single to bring home Lemon two batters later before the Cowboys stopped the bleeding, but the damage was done. The momentum had thoroughly transferred to North Marion, which added two more runs in the sixth off sacrifices from Hansen and Griffin Henry to bring the game to its final margin of victory.
The Huskies took the lead to open the game when Grant Henry drove in Andy Schmitz to give the team a 1-0 lead in the first inning. The two squads settled into a bit of a pitcher's duel, with North Marion starter Griffin Henry tallying strikeouts while the Cowboys' Kyle Knudston kept the Huskies from building any offensive rhythm.
Crook County was able to create their space in the fourth, opening the inning with a single and a double to put runners on third and second. The Cowboys' Carson Smith followed with a grounder to Lemon, who ignored calls from the dugout to get the easy out at first and instead fired it to Grant Henry at home, who tagged the runner at the plate to prevent the run.
"I saw that guy take off, and I just knew that it was a high ball I could catch it up high, and I could get it to my throwing hand real quick," Lemon said. "It's plays like that that help us stay in the game."
Griffin Henry struck out the next batter for the second out, and it appeared the Huskies would get out of the inning unscathed, but the Cowboys found open field on a pair of hits to drive in two runs before finishing the inning with another strikeout.
Griffin Henry allowed just two more hits for the rest of the contest, finishing with 14 strikeouts before giving way to junior Milo Bilyeu for the final out.
"I thought Griffin pitched really well," Brack said. "They made a couple big swings in key situations, but then he'd come right back and make some good pitches and get some guys out."
Lemon's three RBIs led the team, followed by two from Griffin Henry. Iliyn's three bunts for hits were a team-high, while Schmitz had a pair of singles. Both Schmitz and Iliyn scored a team-high two runs as well.
The Huskies (21-4, 10-2 Oregon West) now turn their attention to the quarterfinals, where they will host the Tri-Valley Conference runner-up Madras White Buffaloes (17-9, 10-5), who upset No. 7 Astoria (15-9, 11-4 Cowapa) by a 13-9 score in 11 innings on Wednesday.
The winner will advance to next week's semifinal game against either No. 3 La Grande (19-3, 12-0 Greater Oregon) or No. 6 Banks (19-6, 11-4 Cowapa).