Spitznagel's game-winner sends Jesuit baseball to 6A quarters
The danger of defeat landed right on Jesuit's front doorstep.
As Southridge junior shortstop Michael Ball's three-run ballistic missile screeched out of Sprunk Stadium in the top of the sixth inning, the Crusaders were no longer unbeatable.
With one swing, Ball's three-run homer turned a 5-3 Skyhawk deficit into a 6-5 advantage in the all-Metro League second round of the state playoffs, sending an eerie silence across the pro-Jesuit side of Sprunk. An upset of the top-ranked team in 6A was very much imaginable. Southridge was downright defiant in the way it attacked Jesuit all game long and was two innings away from pulling off the biggest 6A playoff heist in recent memory.
But the top-ranked Crusaders kept chipping. Sophomore Sean Murphy stepped up huge, drilling a two-out, full count RBI single to right in the bottom of the sixth to tie it up 6-6. The momentum, oscillating all game, swung back to Jesuit. The Crusader dugout, famed for its fraternity house-like rowdiness, zoo-animal-like din and ability to take residence in the opposing pitcher's head, kept chirping.
And in the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and runners on first and second, Jesuit senior shortstop Will Spitznagel legged out an infield single with a head-first dive that scored a sprinting Connor Kollas to give the Crusaders a 7-6 win and berth in the 6A quarterfinals. Jesuit will host Beaverton, who the Crusaders swept during the regular season, on Friday at 5 p.m.
Spitznagel, a three-year starter at quarterback on the Jesuit football team, lunged for first base the same way he leaped across the goaline against Tigard in the 6A quarterfinals for the game-winning touchdown back in November. The senior was forced to in a sense, after Southridge senior third baseman Cam Carlson made a brilliant diving stop of Spitznagel's hard-hit chopper, jumped to his feet and tried to gun the Crusader out at first.
"I don't usually dive like that, that was just instincts," Spitznagel said with a smile. "I heard the crowd go crazy, so I was just trying bolt down to first. I didn't even know (Kollas) scored until I rounded the base. My teammates put me in a position where I just had to do my job."
When Ball's three-run jack soared over the protective net in right field, a pall fell over Jesuit's home crown, if only for a minute, as the Skyhawks surged ahead taking its first and only lead of the game. It was a stark reminder to just how fickle the playoffs can be. A single swing in a one-and-done elimination setting can change the entire outlook of a season. But Jesuit's dugout, a combination of bench mobbers, junior varsity swingers and guys waiting their turn in the order kept the Crusaders' competitive spirits high. They kept the volume at an elevated level, breathing confidence into Jesuit in the sixth, which helped lead into Murphy bringing in Connor O'Reilly with his huge game-tying RBI single.
Kollas pinch ran for Joe Angeli, who singled with one out in the seventh, then Kade Wisher walked. When Spitznagel made contact and Carlson went to first, Kollas careened was running all the way around third and scored sliding head first to beat Zach Hald's throw to Spencer Stevens protecting home to send Jesuit to the quarters.
"We know when we get rattled late in the game we can always pick up the energy with our dugout," Spitznagel said. "When we're up at the plate, we feed off of them a lot. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't be in the position that we are today. The only way to bounce back when you're down is energy. You bring the energy and good things happen."
Southridge was achingly close to toppling the team many believe is far and away the most talented in 6A. Literally, the Skyhawks were a strike away from going into the seventh with a one-run lead and a strike away from getting out of the seventh tied with the top of its order coming up in the eighth.
"We knew we could compete with these guys," Ball said. "We came in with confidence. There was no doubt in our minds. We fought...we had our chance it was just unfortunate timing. At the end of the day, we're proud of our season. Nobody expected us to be here. It's just a sad ending to a good season."
Jesuit couldn't get Ball out all game long. The junior middle infielder was 3-for-3 with the three-run jack, a double and a single atop the Skyhawk order. Jesuit took a 2-0 lead on a two-out James Porter two-run single in the bottom of the first, but Carlson crushed a two-run bomb off Ethan Wilson in the top of the third that evened the game up at 2-2. Spencer Stevens' RBI double off the net in center kept Southridge within striking range at 4-3 in the fifth and chased Wilson from the game. There were brilliant defensive plays from Ball making a leaping catch at short to Carlson vacuuming in one-hoppers at the hot corner, to centerfielder Trevor Barth linking up with the Skyhawk infield on a textbook relay throw to nab a Jesuit runner at home to end the fifth. Reliever Darik Salinas came on and helped slow down the Crusaders' never-ending lineup of dynamic hitters. Southridge, who hadn't reached the second round of the playoffs since 2013, not only got that monkey off its back but proved its merit against a Jesuit club many have picked to take home the 6A state championship.
"I'm really proud of how we competed out there," Carlson said. "It shows we have heart. We did our best today. I can say we ended the season trying our hardest, it just didn't work out today."
Wilson threw the first four innings of the contest and drove in two runs at the plate. Josh Daul got the win for the Crusaders in relief and had an RBI single in the fifth. Porter went 3-for-4 on the day as did Salinas for Southridge. Barth started on the mound for Southridge and allowed four hits and four runs over three innings, striking out three. Salinas threw three and two-thirds innings in relief out of the bullpen.