St. Helens drops NWOC-opening series to No. 5 Wilsonville
The St. Helens baseball team knew just how steep the challenge would be in its league-opening three-game series against Wilsonville.
And the Wildcats — a team that lost to 2017 state champion Churchill in last spring's Class 5A state semifinals — didn't disappoint, taking three straight from the Lions, including Tuesday's 4-3 win at Wilsonville High School and Friday's 7-0 victory, also at WHS.
To make things tougher, the Lions admittedly weren't at their best against Wilsonville on Friday.
"We couldn't really find the strike zone right out of the gate," St. Helens coach Jeff Timmons said. "(But) we battled a little bit, made good pitches later, started getting in the comfort zone and throwing the ball in the zone. And of course, we didn't make (defensive) plays early on either."
For their part, the Wildcats were pretty darned happy with the way things had gone.
"We feel pretty good," Wilsonville coach Bryn Card said after the game. "We've got a process throughout the season in regards to getting the rust off preseason and really trying to open up once league starts. The boys have an idea of what they're trying to do, getting good approaches at the plate and I feel like they're really starting to figure that out. We're doing our job every at bat, we're doing our job at the mound, so hopefully, that'll continue."
Fifth-ranked Wilsonville has now won six straight games and improved to 4-0 in the Northwest Oregon Conference and 9-4 overall. No. 23 St. Helens, meanwhile, lost for the third straight time and fell to 0-3 in NWOC play and 1-8 overall.
In its Friday win, Wilsonville got on the scoreboard early, with Eric Hill hitting a first-inning triple into right field and scoring both Trevor Antonson and Andrew Gay. Later in the inning, Hill ran home on a wild pitch and Wilsonville was up 3-0.
In the second inning, Wilsonville's Austin Tacla hit a sacrifice fly to plate Cade Edmonson and extend their team's lead to 4-0.
After another scoreless at-bat for St. Helens, Wilsonville got its offense in gear again. After a fielding error and sacrifice bunt moved Gay to second base, Halden Bjornson stepped up, drilled the first pitch back up the middle and hit St. Helens pitcher Owen Wolfe in the hip, though Wolfe managed to snag the ball and get Bjornson out at first. Gay scored several batters later and Wilsonville was up 5-0 after three innings.
It would be a rough fourth inning for Wolfe as well. The pitcher was hit in the ankle by another high-velocity hit, but despite Wolfe's obvious pain, the St. Helens senior pitched the remainder of the inning and the next.
"It was one of those things where I started off pretty terrible in the beginning," Wolfe said. "I didn't have my stuff. I couldn't locate. Throughout the game, I was starting to get my location down and I felt like I could actually get the ball where I wanted to. As I was getting better, I wanted to make sure I stuck it out out there and gave it as much as I could give."
"Owen is a warrior. To be knocked down twice and get up to throw strikes and shut them down for another 2 1/2 innings was phenomenal," Timmons said. "He got beat up bad. Those were both pretty well hit balls. One hit him right in the belt buckle, the other hit him in the shin. He's going to feel it tomorrow."
The bottom of the fourth was also St. Helens' best defensive inning, as the team turned a double play to close out the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, Wilsonville's Bjornson smacked a triple into the outfield to knock in Hill. Bjornson then scored later in the frame to forge Wilsonville's final 7-0 margin.
"It's a good team win," Wilsonville starting pitcher Nolan Thebiay said. "We had our bats going pretty well today. It's a team win. We did it for the boys. The seven up on the board, that's all family right there."
After the game, the Lions admitted their shortcomings and said they knew they needed to continue improving.
"Obviously, our offensive outing wasn't the greatest thing," Timmons said. "Defensively, I thought we were better (but) we still have some work to do there."
"Our focus, offensively, is to get the bat on the ball and know what to do on the base paths," Wolfe added. "Defensively, it's really to knock stuff down and keep it in front. Don't give them any extra bases.
"In the beginning of each game this year, it seems like we're giving them extra bases in the beginning and starting to clean it up towards the end of the game."
In upcoming games, St. Helens will host Putnam at 5 p.m. Friday and will play at Putnam at 5 p.m. Tuesday.