Baseball: St. Paul shakes off loss with impressive win over Kennedy
The penultimate week of the regular season for the St. Paul baseball team played out much like the opening line of the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…"
The No. 10 Buckaroos (12-3, 8-3 Special District 2) opened the week with a routine 12-1 victory over the Perrydale Pirates (2-10, 1-8 SD2) only to follow it with arguably the team's worst game of the season, committing 11 errors in a devastating 16-6 loss to the Western Mennonite Pioneers (9-8, 6-3 SD2) at Volcano Stadium in Keizer on Thursday.
"In golf they call it 'the yips,'" St. Paul head coach Julio Vela said. "We were suffering on Thursday night. Whatever it was – it just didn't seem like us that night."
The Bucks hardly had time to compartmentalize the loss before playing the No. 3 Kennedy Trojans (15-3, 8-1 SD2) on Friday, blanking the Trojans to the tune of a 9-0 win that goes down amongst the best games of the year for St. Paul.
That the Buckaroos handed one of the best teams in the state — a team that has averaged more than 10 runs a game this season — its first league loss of the season in a shutout only made the sting of Thursday's clunker against the Pioneers all the more head scratching in retrospect.
"I think that was part of what was disheartening on Thursday night," Vela said. "What we saw on Friday is what we are capable of playing."
Against Kennedy, St. Paul was everything they were not the day before in Keizer. The Bucks threw out ace pitcher Justin Herberger against the Trojans, who were dominated by the St. Paul lefty in a complete seven-inning performance.
Herberger struck out nine and hit as many batters (three) as he gave up hits. On offense, he went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, each of which came courtesy of teammate Campbell Smith, who had a monstrous game at the plate.
Smith peppered the outfield with in every at-bat, finishing 4-for-4 with three doubles and a triple, driving in five runs while scoring twice in the process. Holden Smith added three hits of his own — all singles — and drove in a pair of runs.
St. Paul was crisp and clean at the plate, opening with a 1-0 lead on Smith's first double of the day to score Herberger. The Bucks added four more runs in the fourth inning to take a 5-0 lead and continued to add to their lead late in the game, perhaps fueled in part by the disappointing performance the day before.
The loss was difficult to swallow for more than just the sheer improbability of committing 11 errors in a single game. With the season winding down, the Special District 2 Conference is shaping up to be a four-team race for three available playoff berths.
St. Paul needed a win against Western Mennonite to put some distance between the team and the other two programs vying for second place behind the league-leading Trojans. Instead, the loss moved the Buckaroos down into a three-way tie with the Pioneers and Regis (10-5, 6-3 SD2) in the loss column, forcing St. Paul to come up with the game of the season against Kennedy to avoid dropping down to fourth place in the standings.
"We talked about finding within ourselves the strength that we knew we had versus the strength that we knew we needed," Vela said. "I think that the idea that we can bounce back after effectively failing under pressure – I think that's a huge growth item for us."
All four teams — St. Paul, Kennedy, Regis and Western Mennonite — were fighting for playoff contention last year, and it was St. Paul that was left on the outside after losing to the Pioneers in a one-game league tie-breaker.
The Bucks can avoid such a scenario if they win out this week. St. Paul plays at Regis on Wednesday and follows with a home game on Saturday against East Linn Christian before wrapping up the regular season on Tuesday at Santiam.
The game against Regis will be the biggest test. The Rams beat St. Paul 10-9 in April, but if the Bucks win on Wednesday, they'll own a one-game lead in the standings that they can hold on to for the remainder of the season.
"We're in the same position as we were in last year," Vela said. "Our fate is in our own hands. If we take care of our games, we'll be fine."
KennedyWhile the Buckaroos were celebrating their Friday night victory, the Trojans were left trying to figure out how to recover from their second 9-0 loss of the week.
Kennedy's streak of eight consecutive games scoring in double digits — all wins — came to a sudden halt last week when their bats went silent in a 9-0 non-league loss at home to the No. 8 Nestucca Bobcats (14-5, 6-3 SD1) on April 30.
The Trojans picked up a 20-5 win over the last-place East Linn Christian Eagles (1-14, 0-8 SD2) on Thursday before falling to the Buckaroos on Friday.
While Kennedy still maintains a two-game lead over the Bucks and a three-game leader over Regis and Western Mennonite in the league standings, the Trojans' have been occasionally sporadic on offense this season.
While Kennedy has lost only three games this season, the team has been held scoreless in all three losses, each of which has come against a team ranked in the OSAA top 10 — a worrisome trend as the state playoffs loom at the end of the month.
The Trojans have a busy schedule this week, beginning with a game that was scheduled for Monday against Country Christian (4-13, 4-7 SD2). Kennedy follows with a non-league game at home against Lowell (3-15, 3-12 SD3) on Tuesday before hosting Perrydale on Wednesday and finishing with a road game at Regis on Friday.