Southridge sweeps Sunset, clinches fourth in Metro
Talk about getting hot at the most opportune time.
Needing at least three wins in the final five games to give themselves a shot at the Class 6A postseason, Southridge surpassed even its most optimistic expectations. The Skyhawks split with Aloha and broke out the brooms against Beaverton. On May 10 they kept their faint hopes of taking fourth in the Metro League alive with a heroic last-ditch comeback against Sunset.
And on May 11, the Skyhawks sent themselves into the 6A playoffs ablaze.
Southridge bombed five home runs in the first two innings against Sunset to get out to a 10-0 lead and rolled to a 14-3 win at Sunset High School. Junior pitcher Cam Carlson, who's emerged as one of Metro's best hurlers this spring, threw five strong innings, using the large cushion to his advantage. It was an emphatic and rather eye-opening way to seal the league's fourth seed and automatically qualify for the 6A playoffs, which begin May 21.
"I don't think a lot of people in the Metro League, after playing us, thought that was gonna happen," Southridge shortstop Connor Fajardo said. "Every practice, every game was playoff baseball for us. We really put together four high-quality games. We believed in ourselves. The new level of confidence that we had in each other and our own abilities is crazy, really. We just kept fighting, kept playing."
Three of Southridge's homers came in the first inning off back-to-back-to-back jacks from Michael Ball, Zach Hald and Zach Staley that gave Southridge a 5-0 lead.
"It's like you put your foot on their throats and you have to keep pressing down," Fajardo said with a smile. "We finished them early. We wanted to come out swinging. We wanted this really bad and deserve this."
The second inning outpouring was no slouch, either. Fajardo singled and later scored on a Steele Peterson single to go up 6-0. Then Ball lifted a pitch to left-center and the ball caught the wind and carried over the fence to give Southridge a 9-0 lead. Hald, the next hitter, hammered a solo homer to left, extending the Skyhawks' lead to 10-0.
The dingers came in droves. For Ball and Hald, hitting one homer in a game is highlight-reel worthy. But two bombs apiece in consecutive innings? That's bluntly absurd and surreal. On Sunset's senior night, with a full crowd on hand to honor an Apollo class that hoped to make the playoffs outright themselves, Southridge spoiled the party by going yard again and again and yacking balls out of the park at a wildly high clip.
"I think it's demoralizing," Carlson said. "You score 10 runs in two innings and the other team's like 'What the hell are we gonna do?' They're stuck and then you just try to go shut them down on defense."
Sunset loaded the bases with nobody out and walked a run in the bottom of the second, but Carlson coaxed a tailor-made double play from Fajardo to Ball and struck out the next batter to limit the Apollos to just two runs, 10-2. Then Peterson punched a two-run, two-out single up the middle to extend Southridge's lead to 12-2 in the third. Southridge's Mason McLaren tacked on an RBI double in the fifth. Sunset senior catcher Isaac Lovings laced a solo homer to left in the sixth for the Apollos, who closed the regular season with a 16-10 overall record with a 7-9 mark in Metro.
Southridge (14-12, 8-8), a team flirting with either a play-in game or perhaps not making the playoffs at all after losing to Aloha 10 days ago, is now on a five-game win streak going into the postseason.
"We got that 'Big Mo' going on right now," Fajardo said with a smile. "We just have to keep it rolling."
"We're feeling good and just want to keep the pedal down," Carlson said.
The Hawks are one of those sneaky sleeper teams that with the right matchups could find themselves in the quarterfinals. Carlson can go head-to-head with just about any top-of-the-rotation pitcher in 6A. The offense, as evidenced by the seven home runs over the last two games, is percolating. Defensively, Southridge is solid up the middle with Peterson at catcher, Ball and Fajardo in the infield and Hayden Jenkins roaming in center. Quietly, Southridge tested Westview back in April and lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Jesuit on a fluky, wet-field-induced error. The playoff-bound Hawks opened the Metro slate by facing Century, Westview and Jesuit in succession, a gauntlet that strained Southridge, but helped a young team grow exponentially. Now, Southridge is battle-tested by the best and playing its optimal level of baseball.
"We had a slow start and couldn't find ourselves, but I think this proves when it comes to the playoffs we're ready to go, fight and play," Fajardo said. "We knew we were in the perfect position to get the four seed. It's playoff baseball and it's time to go."