Baseball: Wilsonville takes state favorites to the brink in semifinals
As Wilsonville players huddled together for the final time after the 11-inning saga, Wilsonville head coach Bryn Card could sense a state of disbelief in the atmosphere and that the adrenaline built up through hours of exhilarating baseball had not dissipated.
His players wanted one more at bat, one more chance to pull off the win.
But their opportunities had run out. No. 1 Churchill won 5-4 in the 5A state semifinals Tuesday, May 30 in Eugene and would go on to defeat Crater in the 5A state championship game while the No. 5 Wildcats special season ended right then and there.
For Card, the loss came down to the inherent randomness of single elimination baseball. And he was prideful of his team's effort, commitment and execution throughout the season and particularly in the semifinals game.
"I told them how proud I was of them. I told them there wasn't a mistake made tonight. They played the way I preached. They really showed how I wanted them to play in that final game. They really put it together," Card said.
Many hours before the team huddle, Wilsonville junior Ben VavRosky took the mound hoping to lead the Wildcats to an upset victory.
He struggled a bit in the first inning — giving up two runs — but maintained a positive mindset and began to post zeroes on the scoreboard in ensuing innings. Churchill did not score in the second, third or fourth innings.
"He started the game a little bit elevated and out of his normal self. To watch him, he gave up two runs, came into the dugout and pumped the team up and he settled down and threw lights out again. He put the team over self," Card said.
The Wildcats scored all four of their runs in the third inning. There, Drake Carter produced a double, Adam Stevens' liner to right field drove in a run and a couple Churchill errors led to three more runs.
Wilsonville led 4-2 through four innings before Churchill scored two runs in the fifth inning to tie the game 4-4.
In the late innings, the game turned into a battle between two dexterous relief pitchers.
VavRosky left the game after pitching five innings and Halden Bjornson replaced him on the mound. With the season on the line, Bjornson pitched lights out — giving up zero earned runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched.
"We knew we could rely on him but extending the game as long as he did, he kept us in the game and gave up many opportunities. We had three innings with guys on and opportunities to score. We wouldn't have been able to have those opportunities if he didn't pitch as well as he did," Card said.
Meanwhile, Churchill ace Brock Townshend came into relief following the Wildcats' second inning boon and dominated — giving up zero runs in 8 1/3 innings pitched.
"He's a good pitcher, lives in the zone, lots of velocity and throws the slider off of the same plane (as his fastball). He was impressive. We had our opportunities and weren't able to capitalize on them," Card said.
In the top of the 11th inning, Wilsonville had its best chance of tacking on the potential winning run.
After VavRosky singled and reached second base via a passed ball, Bjornson singled to center field — prompting a risky decision by Card. Knowing Wilsonville had struggled to manufacture hits against Townshend, he decided to send VavRosky home on the play. The risk didn't pay off as the Wilsonville junior was tagged out at home.
Then, in the bottom of the 11th inning with Churchill at the plate, a similar situation arose.
This time, VavRosky had a chance to throw Churchill's Jose Chavez out at home. But the throw was a bit high and Chavez scored the game-winning run.
"He gave it everything he has. If there's anyone I want to have the ball with game in his hands it's Ben," Card said.
A week and a half after an epic first round win over Summit, the Churchill game was another instant classic.
"It was the best game I've ever coached in. It was great strategy versus great strategy, a lot of hard work, great execution. They were incredible at making plays and so were we," Card said.
The loss ended one of Wilsonville's best seasons in recent memory. The Wildcats started the season 15-1, won 14-of-17 in league-play, finished one win shy of the Northwest Oregon Conference title and reached the semifinals of the state playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Card dished out a plethora of superlatives for this Wilsonville team and particularly the senior class. It was the first senior class he coached for all four years of high school.
He said he will greatly miss seniors Dominic Enbody, Gage Gloster, Drake Carter, Kristjen Mertes, Alex Coleman, Dawson Crooks, Camden Crystal and Jimmy Selleck.
"The seniors put a lot of time into changing the culture here. They've done a great job of exemplifying class and hard work and preaching that to the younger kids," Card said.
Next year, Wilsonville will bring back considerable talent. Powerhouse hitter Trevor Antonson returns as well as ace pitcher VavRosky, Stevens, Bjornson and Andrew Gay.
The chips didn't fall Wilsonville's way Tuesday, but Card says the loss doesn't take away from the season as a whole.
"We had a good feeling we could be good but they really made sure they could be good. They put in the extra hours to make sure the season would be as good as it was. As much as I want to play on Saturday, I couldn't have asked for anything more from this group," Card said.