West Linn baseball team steps up on defense to win its second straight 6A title.
Sure, sure, sure.
Home runs are great, and often, they deserve the headlines they so often get.
But the West Linn baseball team went mining for diamond gems in the Class 6A state championship, and there’s no two ways about it — the Lions struck gold.
Top-ranked West Linn, facing No. 2 Jesuit in the state title game at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer on Saturday, June 3, turned in a handful of scintillating defensive plays against the Crusaders and those plays paved the way for the Lions’ 2-0 championship victory.
“My guys in the field made great plays. They really helped me. It was a game-changer those plays they made,” said West Linn senior pitcher Drake Gabel, who threw a six-hit, one-walk shutout with four strikeouts against Jesuit. “Those plays changed the game. If someone goes out and makes a play, it’s just a whole boost of adrenaline. Their crowd is super quiet and then it’s just a momentum-changer and we just keep building on it.”
“When you come out and have defense like that, that’s the difference,” said Lion junior catcher Ryan VandenBrink. “They say defense wins championships and that’s what happened today.”
• The first of the Lions’ diamond gems came after Jesuit senior Charlie Sturm led off the game with a single to left field, a hit that came moments after West Linn first baseman Holmes dropped Sturm’s earlier foul pop-up in short right field.
After Gabel struck out Crusader senior Levi Jones for the first out, VandenBrink gloved a high, outside pitch from Gabel and threw out Sturm on an attempted steal, with Lion junior shortstop Mitchell Rowe making a dynamite catch and tag at second base.
• VandenBrink provided the second of the Lions’ memorable stops in the top of the second inning. There, with a runner on first, West Linn nursing a 1-0 lead and Jesuit senior Evan Williams at the plate, Gabel got Williams to foul a pitch straight back toward the backstop behind home plate. VandenBrink sprang up, spun around, sprinted backward and leapt to make a dramatic diving catch for the second out.
• Holmes turned in a key play of his own at the beginning of the third inning when Jesuit sophomore Kainoa Santiago hit a hard chopper down the first base line. The ball took a bad hop as it reached Holmes, but he deflected it, recovered it and threw to Gabel for the out at first.
• While more modest than some of the others on this list, Rowe and senior second baseman Tyson Smith added another key stop in the fourth. There, with two outs and Jesuit senior Ty Alleman at first, Williams hit a chopper to Rowe at shortstop. Rowe snagged the ball cleanly, but his throw to Smith arrived high and wide at second, but Smith extended to make the catch with his foot still on second base to end the inning and keep Gabel’s shutout intact.
• In the fifth, it was junior center fielder Gabe Howard who provided the defensive highlight, tracking down Santiago’s two-out drive to center, making a running over-the-shoulder catch at the center field fence some 400 feet away from home plate.
• In the sixth, it was sophomore right fielder Danny Wideman’s turn in the spotlight, and he made the most of it. With Jesuit senior pinch runner Caleb Ruchaber at second base following Sturm’s leadoff double, Jones smoked a line drive toward right field. But Wideman broke on the ball immediately, left his feet and made a fully extended diving catch to snuff out the Crusaders’ best scoring chance to that point in the game.
• Then, with two outs in the sixth, Jesuit senior Noble Meyer hammered a long fly ball toward the right field fence. But again, Wideman had the answer, using his speed to track down the ball and glove it cleanly near the warning track and end the inning.
“Coming out here on a dirt field when both teams are used to turf fields, it’s a different ballgame and we just went out there and we said ‘We are going to be hard-nosed at the plate and we’re going to get it done no matter what’ and that’s what happened,” VandenBrink said. “And they struggled with it.”