Gladstone downs La Grande 3-2, takes home 4A baseball state title
|#4 Gladstone (22-8)|
|#3 La Grande (21-4)|
KEIZER — This Gladstone squad has always been a group that thrived under pressure.
And in their biggest game in school history, the Gladiators showed that they weren't afraid of the moment.
Matthew Lehrbach had the go-ahead RBI-single in the top of the seventh and Ben McCoy retired the side in order on the mound in the bottom half of the frame as Gladstone won their first ever baseball championship on Saturday at Volcanoes Stadium, knocking off La Grande 3-2 in the 4A state title game.
"We have been preaching to this team all year that we were going to make it here and win it all," Gladstone coach Casey Webster said. "This is unreal and couldn't have happened to a greater group of guys. I'm so happy for the school and community. This is just awesome."
Gladstone was able to manufacture an early run off La Grande starter Cody Dubray in the top of the first. After Lehrbach drew a one-out walk, the junior outfielder got into scoring position by stealing second, then moved up 90 feet once again on a balk by Dubray.
Derek Lee got Lehrbach in from third with a 6-3 RBI-groundout, putting the Gladiators up 1-0.
Lee, who started on the mound for Gladstone, surrendered a run in the first inning as well on a sacrifice fly to left field by Logan Atkinson. However, that did not phase the senior lefty as Lee threw four consecutive scoreless frames.
"We have a lot of confidence in Derek and we were going to go with him as long as we could," Webster said. "He did a tremendous job. He showed a lot of grit and a lot of heart."
The Gladiators responded in the top of third on an RBI-single to left field by Austin Conner, scoring senior speedster Damian Alvarado from second and putting Gladstone up 2-1.
This wouldn't be the only time in this game where Alvarado's speed came into play in this game.
With a man on first and two outs in the bottom of the fifth, La Grande second baseman Issac Chamberlain roped a line drive into the gap in left center. Alvarado, who was playing center field, got a great jump off the bat, took a perfect route to the ball and made a spectacular full-extended diving catch, saving a run from scoring and preserving Gladstone's lead.
"We do those kinds of things in practice all the time, so when it comes to the game, it's just based on instinct," Alvarado said.
Two failed sacrifice bunt attempts — both infield pop-outs — greatly hurt La Grande's chance to score in the fourth and fifth innings. But head coach Parker McKinley stayed with that same game plan and it finally played into his favor in the bottom of the sixth.
After a one-out walk to Logan Paustian, Logan Atkinson laid a bunt down to move him into scoring position. Lee fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw to first pulled Jackson Simmons off the base and Atkinson was declared safe. Lee left the bump after going 5.1 innings, giving up just two hits and one earned run. He was replaced by junior right-hander Wesley Haverland.
Haverland threw just two pitches in the game, and it was on the second pitch where disaster ensued for Gladstone. La Grande's Brody Kincade laid a beautiful 0-1 bunt down the third base line and McCoy, who was playing third base at the time, charged the ball and tried to make a quick throw over to first to get Kincade. But the throw sailed into right field, allowing Paustian to score from second easily and moving Atkinson over to to third.
With the game tied 2-2 and the go-ahead run 90 feet away, Webster went to his senior stud in McCoy to see if he could get his squad out of trouble.
In Tuesday's semifinal game, McCoy pitched all seven innings in Gladstone's 4-1 win over Junction City. OSAA rules require that pitchers must have three days rest when they throw more than 86 pitches — which McCoy did on Tuesday. If a pitcher gets three days rest and throws on the fourth day, he is limited to a maximum of 25 pitches, which was McCoy's limit in this game.
Needless to stay, McCoy had a tight window to get as many outs as he could. But in the biggest game of his life, he responded to the challenge.
McCoy struck out Dubray on a 1-2 breaking ball and then got JayCe Leonard to groundout to first base to get out of the jam.
"I wasn't worried about the people on base. I was just focused on the batter," McCoy said.
As Gladstone came into the dugout to start the top of the seventh, they knew they needed to get a run for their star pitcher to put themselves in position for the win.
"One through nine in our lineup has the chance to do something special," Lehrbach said. "We have guys that are good at doing their job."
With one out in the inning, nine-batter Tyler Meyers drew a four-pitch walk to start the threat for Gladstone. Alvarado then followed by hitting a grounder to short on what could have been a 6-4-3 double play. La Grande got the out at second, but when Chamberlain fired to first for the double play, the ball got past Atkinson, the first baseman, and went into the Gladstone dugout. Alvarado advanced into scoring position at second base after the ball was ruled out-of-play.
The error proved to be costly because on the next at-bat, Lehrbach attacked the first pitch he saw and lined a sharp single into right field. Alvarado easily scored on the hit and Gladstone regained the lead at 3-2.
"I knew if I got something to drop in the outfield, (Alvarado) is scoring all the way," Lehrbach said. "Coming up in that situation is something you dream about."
With three outs to go and their ace on the mound, the Gladstone players were feeling extremely confident as McCoy went to the mound for the final frame.
"Ben McCoy is the best pitcher in the state at the 4A level," Alvarado said. "We have a ton of faith in him."
McCoy retired the eight and nine batters with ease before the lineup switched over. With his pitch count at 22 for the game, McCoy got Chamberlain to pop-up to first base for the final out and the celebration was on as the Gladstone players all dog-piled in the infield.
"My whole baseball career has been leading up to this moment. It's so surreal," McCoy said about winning a state championship. "When we got that go-ahead run, it was such a relief because I knew I could go 1-2-3 to close the game."