Jesuit goes into playoffs on a roll

When their ace Christian Martinek went down with a shoulder injury during spring break, the Jesuit baseball team was forced to reinvent itself in a sense.

Instead of jockeying Martinek's left-handed bazooka — which limited defensive opportunities because of the junior's tendency to punch dudes out at the dish — the Crusaders' defenders in the field have taken it upon themselves to take the team on a long, profitable 6A playoff run.

Gone is the big arm that opponents feared, though there's a slim chance Martinek could reappear somewhere down the playoff road. However, Jesuit's defense has been web gem worthy and the driving force behind a season-closing eight-game winning streak.

Shooting for the sweep against Beaverton last Thursday, Jesuit protected their starting pitcher Thomas Swide beautifully, making the routine plays look mundane and the spectacular plays seem simple in a 10-6 win. Even when Beaverton threatened in the second, third and fourth innings with multiple runners on base, the Crusaders came up with the clutch defensive stops that have become the norm lately.

“There's definitely pressure on, but sometimes pressure is a good thing,” said Jesuit shortstop Nicholas Choruby. "You have to have trust in your defense, trust in your pitcher to get the job done. We did, and he (Swide) did, so it turned out for the best."

Jesuit's defensive effort gave its bats a chance to awaken, which they did massively with four runs in the fifth and six more in the sixth. Brian DeGrandmont sparked the Crusaders in the fifth by beating out an infield single and then stealing second and third with the left-hander hitting Choruby at the plate.

With the score tied 1-1 and two outs, Choruby said he was looking for something off-speed with the count full. When Beaver starter Cody Cornwell hurled it at him, the senior shortstop snapped it to center to push Jesuit ahead 2-1.

“When you get the lead, it gets everybody pumped up,” said Choruby. "Then you come out, you're excited, hot and ready to go. Things started to fall our way, and we were off and running.

“Once we get going, it's tough to stop a rally. The dugout was working for us a lot. They were helping out, and everybody was stepping up.”

Two batters later — still with two outs — Trent Werner trolled a ball under the legs of a Beaverton infielder that shot to left field and scored another pair of runs to go up 4-1. With two outs on the board, Werner and the Crusaders shortened up their swings in order to put the ball in play and forced Beaverton to make mistakes. In all, Jesuit scored eight runs with two outs.

“It wasn't overconfidence or cockiness, but we had a quiet confidence,” said Werner. "We weren't loud and obnoxious. It was just 'Hey, we can play up to what we're capable of and swing the bats well.' I think when we play like that we see the ball better and make contact.”

In the decisive sixth, DeGrandmont and Decker drove in runs with RBI singles, and Werner matched his forest fire hit in the fifth with a three-run scorching double in the sixth. Werner clubbed the pill so hard it scooted right past the Beaver outfield, all the way to the fence, allowing all three men aboard to cross and extend the advantage to 9-1.

“That kind of blew the door down,” noted Werner. “The guys in front of me did a good job of getting on, and I just wanted to make contact.”

DeGrandmont said the Crusaders were over antsy in the batter's box early in the game, but head coach Tim Massey told them to wait for their pitch and rip it when it arrived.

“We changed our approach a little bit,” said DeGrandmont. "We were swinging at the first couple of pitches, and the coaches told us just to relax. Once one or two guys got on, that started the fire and it kept going."

DeGrandmont started the defensive exhibition in the first inning after Beaverton's Josh Hill roped a single to left with Ryan Hill on second base and two outs on the board. Hill rounded third and ran home, but DeGrandmont snapped a perfect seed to Choruby, who relayed the ball to catcher Matt Decker at home. Decker slapped Hill in the chest on a bang-bang call at the dish for the final out of the inning.

DeGrandmont said Jesuit's defensive performance usually hinges on how the team plays during its pre-game infield-outfield drills. On May 9, the left fielder said the Crusaders were crisp before the contest and it carried over to the game itself.

“We were dialed in early and it continued on during the game. We were all mentally focused and ready pre-pitch and after-pitch,” said DeGrandmont.

Choruby and his double playmate Buddy Webb were close-fisted up the middle, laying out for catches, spinning around the diamond like contortionists and turning twin killings. First baseman Ken Carlson and third baseman Brent Haberle shut down the corners and played mistake-free. Webb's throwing error in the bottom of the third let Beaverton take a 1-0 lead early, but the second baseman more than made up for it when the Beavers' Justin Wakem came to bat.

Wakem smoked a ball back up the box, but Webb snared the grounder with his glove and flipped it to Choruby, who turned the double play. Jesuit teetered on the tight rope of disaster at times, but Swide smartly trusted his defense to do work behind him. In turn, the senior sat down the last seven batters he faced and finished with a solid, six-inning outing.

Cornwell was personally bent on bashing the Crusaders after dropping the last two games of the series, and the power hitter played like it, going 3-3 with a double.

"I was really focused...that was most of it," Cornwell said. "I was just playing out of anger more. I really wanted to win.

“I feel like we didn't take advantage of our opportunities when we needed to.”

Beaverton left too many guys on the base paths. Normally, Cornwell said, the Beavers' defense is the team's strength, but it didn't hold well once Jesuit started knocking the ball around. The right-handed pitcher who started for just the second time all season and put together a high-quality outing believed part of the problem stemmed from Beaverton's 5-4 nine-inning loss to the Crusaders May 8, which ensured the Beavers wouldn't be one of Metro's three automatic 6A playoff qualifying teams.

However, Beaverton will still be a participant in the 6A postseason via the “play-in” round this week.

“We weren't focused as much," Cornwell said. "We had a chance to get the third seed in Metro and get the bye, but after losing that, we just kind of lost it. It was tough.

“We have good defense. Today we didn't show that, but I feel that's a good thing to have in the playoffs because no matter who we get, we'll be able to beat them.”

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