STANFIELD — After the final out of Tuesday’s 3A baseball semifinal game between No. 1 Stanfield/Echo and No. 4 St. Mary’s, Medford, the winning team tossed its gloves around in the air in celebration and danced around in a giant mosh pit, just as one might expect, after clinching a state title game berth.
What was unexpected though, was the team that was celebrating. It was not the defending 3A state champion Tigers, who dominated the first two rounds of the postseason. Instead it was the Crusaders, who got a dominant pitching performance to quiet the Tiger offense and advance to the school’s first-ever baseball state championship game with a 3-2 victory at Madigan Field.
The Crusaders (25-4) will now play No. 6 Glide for the 3A state championship at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer on Friday at 5 p.m.
“It’s tough,” Stanfield’s Dylan Grogan said afterwards, fighting back emotions. “The seniors wanted to get back at it and get another one, but sometimes all it takes is one pitch and now we gotta live with it.”
As Grogan referenced, the win for the Crusaders came down to one pitch. St. Mary’s registered just three hits in the game, but its entire offensive output came with one swing of the bat in the fifth inning. With the Tigers (24-3) holding a 2-0 lead, starting pitcher Klay Jenson walked two batters to put a pair on with two outs. It wasn’t a new occurrence for the Stanfield lefty on Tuesday, who walked a total of six batters as he battled his command, yet had managed to escape unharmed each time prior.
But after throwing St. Mary’s batter Joe Johnson a first-pitch slider, Jenson tried to get another slider in for a strike but left it over the plate a hair too much and the lefty-swinging Johnson put a good swing on the pitch and lifted it up into the air. As the ball continued to carry towards center field, it was assisted by the 20-plus mile-per-hour winds that whipped through Stanfield Tuesday afternoon and traveled over the fence for a three-run home run and a 3-2 Crusader lead.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Jenson, who also threw five-plus innings and struck out six. “It was my fault, I left one over the middle plate and I shouldn’t have thrown that pitch, but that’s baseball I guess. I was hoping it would just be a pop fly but he (Johnson) got a really good swing and the wind carried it out.”
“I thought Klay did a great job today,” Stanfield coach Brad Rogers said. “He had some control problems but overall he only gave up a couple of hits and if you were to tell me before the game that Klay pitched the way he did, I’d take it and bet on our offense.”
Grogan came on in relief of Jenson in the sixth and kept the Tigers in it, throwing two no-hit innings with one strikeout and one walk. Stanfield had plenty of chances to add to its run total throughout but couldn’t string together the hits like it was used to, especially in the clutch situations. Stanfield had runners in scoring position with one out or less five times and only scored on one of those chances, including leaving Brody Woods stranded at third base after a one-out triple in the sixth inning.
The top of the Tigers batting order of Thyler Monkus, Tony Flores and Grogan had been a force to be reckoned with throughout 2017 but went out with a whimper. The trio combined to go 0 for 10 with four strikeouts and a walk.
“We didn’t get our pitchers and swung at a lot of stuff we probably shouldn’t have,” Grogan said of the offense.
Part of the reason for the lack of offense was due to St. Mary’s pitcher Joe Johnson, who pitched the final four innings of the game to get the win on top of his home run. He relieved starter Brandon Letendre after Letendre gave up a pair of runs in the third inning that came from a dropped fly ball in center field off the bat of Tony Flores that brought home Justin Keeney and Adrian Renner for a 2-0 Stanfield lead at the time.
But where Letendre peppered Stanfield with off-speed and breaking pitches, Johnson came at the Tigers with much-higher velocity to keep them off-balance. The left-hander allowed three hits in his four innings, struck out six and walked two to earn the win. It’s the 17th straight game where the Crusaders have allowed three runs or less and coach Sean Gallagher was happy with how is pitching plan worked out.
“My thought was to start (Letendre) and then bring in Joe with some heat,” Gallagher said. “Joe is fearless ... that kid is the most fierce competitor I’ve ever coached and for him it was a huge, huge day and he really wanted this.”
Stanfield gave itself a chance in the final inning, as Justin Keeney led off with an infield single and then was bunted to second base with one out. But a strikeout by Thyler Monkus brought things down to Flores, who hit a chopper up the middle that was corralled by the second baseman and threw it to first to beat a sprinting Flores by a step to end it.
The loss brings to an end the careers of Stanfield’s standout core of seniors, who came together to make Stanfield one of the top teams in the state at the 3A and 2A level over the past few seasons. The likes of Grogan, Flores, Jenson, Ryan Bailey, Hunter Barnes and depart the Stanfield/Echo baseball team with a combined record of 93-21 over their four-year careers and a lifetime of memories.
“We’ve been together since kindergarten so doing this together at a big level is exciting and it was fun,” Grogan said.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to finish my senior season and play baseball with,” Jenson added. “I love these guys.”
3A semis R H E
STM 000 030 0 — 3 3 1
SHS 002 000 0 — 2 6 1
B. Letendre, J. Johnson (4) and J. Arevalos. K. Jenson, D. Grogan (6) and T. Monkus. W — Johnson, L — Jenson.
2B — R. Bailey, T. Flores, B. Woods, A. Renner (SHS). 3B — B. Woods (SHS). HR — J. Johnson (STM).
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.