Wildcats claw past Tigard in non-league clash
The non-league portion of the regular season was designed for games like this.
Teams can only get so much out of pummeling an undermanned opponent — facing live pitching, a few game-like situations, maybe a couple of defensive chances. But when a non-league game pits two upper tier teams against one another, a pair of squads with realistic deep postseason run aspirations, the opportunity outweighs the ultimate outcome.
When Westview and Tigard went at it in the Tigers' last preseason game of the season on March 28, the intensity had an elimination-game feel to it. There were multiple comebacks, four lead changes and four ties, clutch two-out RBIs, sage baserunning, pristine defense and keen pitching on both sides.
What tipped the scales in Westview's favor, however, was its understanding of the comeback. Trailing 4-2 in the top of the fifth, the Wildcats scored on a Willie Weiss double and a Mante Woods sacrifice fly to tie it up 4-4.
And with the game still knotted up in the seventh, Ben Braukmann scored on a painstakingly close play at the plate to give Westview a 5-4 lead. Then Braukmann, who started and starred on the mound, finished the job with a clean seventh to protect the 5-4 victory at Tigard High School.
"This was definitely a playoff game mentality," Braukmann said. "The fact we were able to keep our composure after the runs and hits they had at the start of the game really means a lot to this team. We kept a neutral mindset, didn't get too high or low and made sure we had belief in ourselves down the stretch. I feel like there's a lot more to come for us."
Tigard (7-2 overall) actually went from No. 6 in the Class 6A power rankings to No. 4 despite the defeat. It was one of those contests both teams should be commended for both for scheduling the showdown and living up to the billing as a matchup between two potential postseasons foes. The game was played at a high level in late March when many programs are still trying to fit pieces to the puzzle.
"We learned a lot about ourselves," Tigard senior second baseman Michael Quintana said. "Even though it was a tough loss, we felt good about it. We're starting to play well together. We're bonding and keeping that brotherhood. We have good players at each position."
The Tigers kick off Three Rivers League action with a two-game set against Sherwood this week after finishing out the non-league slate with quality wins over Churchill, Sunset, Beaverton and Oregon City, amongst others.
"Right now we have a ton of confidence," Quintana said. "We want to go into league and start out strong and just keep up the quality at-bats and solid defense. Today we hit really well against a pretty good pitcher, so we feel pretty confident about that. I think we can go pretty far."
In a game full of highlights, Braukmann's bang-bang go-ahead score was the decider. Braukmann singled off Tigard reliever CJ Rivers to start off the seventh, advanced to second on a Woods' fielder's choice and advanced another 90 feet on a passed ball. Westview senior Jacob Cox hit a hard grounder to Tigard second baseman Ethan Clark who gloved the ball and stared down Braukmann who was maybe a step or two off third. It looked like Clark did enough to freeze Braukmann at third, but as the middle infielder threw to first to get Cox at first, Braukmann bolted. Tigard got the out at first and fired home, but Braukmann beat the throw by half a step and slid safely to go up 5-4.
Braukmann said with Tigard's dangerous lineup, it wasn't a matter of if but when the Tigers started hitting the ball again. Had the game lingered into extra innings, Tigard was fully capable of plating the game-ending run. And with the game's momentum on Westview's side, time was of the essence, essentially.
"Coach (Matt Bailie) didn't tell me to go, but I knew if (the second baseman) threw to first I could make it home," Braukmann said. "With two outs, I knew I had to get there, so I felt like it was a good risk to take. At the moment, it was the right play."
Braukmann, who after allowing a Caden Stinson triple and a Clark RBI single in the top of the fourth sat down 10 consecutive Tigers, went back to the mound in the top of the seventh. Quintana singled with one out, but Braukmann rebounded by inducing a six-four-three double play to end it.
The nip-and-tuck square-off was an early season treat for the baseball diehards. With Tigard trailing 1-0 in the bottom half of the first, Rivers stroked a two-out RBI single to right to tie it 1–1. From behind the dish, Stinson nabbed a Wildcat baserunner trying to steal second. Cox robbed Tigard of the possible go-ahead run with an all-out diving catch in shallow right field. Westview senior shortstop Willie Weiss plunked a Manny Andrade pitch just inside the first base line that landed on the left side of the chalk that scored Josh Moreno and gave Weiss enough time to slide into second to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead.
Tigard junior Lance Kreisberg, staring down on a 0-2 count with two outs on the board and two Tigers on base, socked a Braukmann fastball toward the deepest part of the Tigard park, just outside of the Wildcats' reach in center that dropped and scored Nicholas Heinke and Quintana to reclaim a 3-2 edge in the third. Quintana and Clark flipped a slick double play in the in the fourth. In the top of the fifth Moreno hustled out an infield single and Weiss cut Tigard's lead one with a deep double to center that bounced over the fence to make it 4-3. Woods brought Westview even with the sacrifice fly. Moreno went 3-for-3 on the day.
Braukmann not only pitched a complete game and retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, but he helped his own cause with three singles. Andrade was effective on the bump as well, throwing six quality innings, allowing just four runs. Heinke and Stinson both had two hits for Tigard.