The sleeping purple-and-white giant napping in Cedar Mill is fully woke.
Sunset — a program that's seemingly been on the verge of a breakthrough, but hasn't reached the second round of the Class 6A playoffs the last handful of seasons — stuck its claim as perhaps the Metro League's most dangerous team heading into 2018 with a statement-making week at the Oregon Independent Baseball Association state tournament.
In a two-game span, the Apollos beat rivals Southridge and Jesuit — both of whom won more than 20 games apiece this summer — and culminated the week with a dominating all-around 12-4 championship game victory over archenemy Westview (Robinson Construction) at Wilsonville High School on Saturday.
"Sunset isn't going to be what it used to be anymore," Sunset senior catcher Isaac Lovings said. "We're going to be playing some competitive ball. We're not going to go down as easy as you think. It's been a long time coming for us."
"We played our best baseball at the end of the summer, which is what all coaches dream of," Sunset senior shortstop Tyler Sumner said. "Nobody's scared of the pitching coming their way anymore. Everyone just has so much confidence. When I see a guy going up to the plate, I just know they're going to get a hit, one-through-nine (in the batting order) no matter who it is."
To be clear, Westview wasn't at full strength as Willie Weiss, Carter Sakamoto and Mante Woods were all abroad playing club ball. Still, the Wildcats trotted out a great pitcher in Keegan Huey-Woods who held Sunset to just one run in the spring and a number of returning starters in Ben Braukmann, Jacob Cox, Tyler Antich and Dominic Barela.
Sunset's rout of Westview was the sort of superb, three-pronged performance that Sunset head coach John Barnes has been looking for. Not only were the Apollos single-minded defensively as they customarily are — snaring line drives turning double plays in the infield, laying out for balls in the outfield — but Sunset received outstanding pitching from junior right-hander Kaito Wilson. Wilson, who played junior varsity mostly as a sophomore, set aside the nerves of facing a stocked lineup and entrusted the game's outcome to the defense fortifying the field around him. With Lovings calling the shots behind the plate, Sumner, Sam Winter, Chris Armstrong manning the infield and Danner Wintle making lights-out dives in center, Wilson worked effectively and let his defense make plays. The Apollos pride themselves on defense and pour an ample amount of work into that side of the field during the regular season. The fruits of their labor were on full display on Saturday.
"Great defense is something we expect out of all of those guys," Lovings said. "When we play at the type of level, we have to play there all of the time. We set the bar high and we want to stay at that bar."
And the bats were explosive, making Huey-Woods pay for leaving pitches up in the strike zone and pounding mistakes for extra bases. Hitting has sometimes let the Apollos down in the past in critical moments, but against Westview, Sunset clutched up and kept the barrel of the bat chugging through pitch after pitch. Lovings, Mitch Scanlan and Ryan Bergemann all belted RBIs in the bottom of the first inning to give Sunset a 3-0 lead.
"We didn't think we could be stopped," Sumner said. "We were eager to get out there against (Huey-Woods). Some teams might be a little hesitant when a guy shoved it against you the last time out, but we jumped on him early and kept it there."
In the top of the fifth Wintle singled, Winter walked and Armstrong laid down a perfect surprise bunt along the third base side to load the bags for Tomo Horie who plopped a high fly ball in between the Westview center fielder and right fielder, both of whom thought the other was going to take the can of corn, to extend Sunset's lead to 4-0.
That brought Lovings to the dish, with the bags still juiced, and a chance to launch the game into insurmountable territory in his hands. Knowing Huey-Woods wouldn't throw him a curveball after driving in the game's first run off such an offering, Lovings was looking for a dead-red fastball and got it right over the heart of the plate. Lovings squared up the Huey-Woods pitch and hit it on the screws to the gap in right-center. The ball rolled to the 475-foot mark in center, which was plenty of time for all three Apollos to score and send Lovings into third with a bases clearing, three-run triple to go up 7-0.
"That was my first league triple, showing the wheels off a little bit," Lovings said with a smile. "We wanted to come out swinging and throw that first punch."
Horie tacked on a two-run triple in the sixth and Sumner added a two-run double in the seventh. Antich's two-run single in the sixth put Westview on the scoreboard.
All over the field, there was a feeling of confidence permeating from player-to-player. The Apollos played with great aggressive assertiveness, knowing the next hit, the next web gem, the next strike was there for their taking.
"(Assistant coach Jeff) Smith told us to show up to the ballpark thinking we were better than the other team, to know you're the better team and then play like that," Lovings said. "That's what got us through this tournament. We started believing we're better than the other team."
This win was vital for Sunset considering the current circumstances and history. The Apollos hadn't beaten both Jesuit and Westview in the same season since 2014. Yet, Sunset took down both flagship programs in one day, setting the stage for what could be a huge step forward come next spring. The shift from underdog to contender, Sumner and Lovings said, has taken place because of Sunset's coherence on and off the field.
After the Jesuit game, for example, the Apollos' entire lineup went out to eat before coming back to the park for the title tilt — an outing Sumer said Sunset has never done in the past. Away from the game, whether it's playing other sports or hanging out at school, Sumner noted the whole squad is close-knit, so applying that important chemistry to the '18 spring shouldn't be a tall task.
"This is the best baseball team I've ever played with," Sumner said. "Chemistry-wise I've never felt more connected to a team. We all have each other's back every time. If you're in a bad mood, somebody's gonna pick you up right away. It's a lot of fun to play with these guys."
"Before there were a lot of cliques, a lot of seniority, but we don't have that here," Lovings added. "We're all together and play as one team."