|#3 Clackamas (23-6)|
|#6 Central Catholic (24-6)|
Central Catholic's Christian Cooney started Friday's 6A quarterfinal game with a home run, and he had a chance to keep the game alive if he could repeat the feat in seventh inning.
He could not.
Clackamas pitcher Tucker Grote finished what he started, getting Cooney swinging with a man of base to finish off a 4-2 win over the Rams. He twisted around on the mound and let out a shout of celebration to his defense before being embraced by Cavaliers pouring out of the dugout.
"He got that first home run off me, and I felt like I had to step it up. I used that as fuel the rest of the way," Grote said. "He took me out of the park, and I had to get him back."
Clackamas coach John Arnston was admittedly nervous about Cooney facing the same arm for a fourth time and had action going in the bullpen. In the end, he stuck with his starter.
"Tuck came up with some big pitches when he needed to," Arnston said. "He was pretty dialed in for the seventh inning and probably picked up about four miles per hour."
With the win, No. 3-ranked Clackamas (23-6) advances to host No. 7 South Salem (24-6) in the semifinals at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Cavaliers are chasing a repeat big-school championship — something that hasn't happened in almost 50 years. Madison was the last to do it in 1969 and '70.
"Now it's all about that next game," Grote said. "Everybody here loves this sport — this means a lot to us."
The Cavaliers made their move in the third inning when Greg Mehlhaff knocked a lead-off single through the left side, and Jake Zehr was hit by a pitch. Bubba Jaha laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up, and Nate Vaughn was issued an intentional walk to load the bases with only one out.
Central Catholic starter Sam Matterazzo struck out the next batter, but wouldn't be able to close the door. Grote was next into the batter's box, but he wouldn't need to swing the bat. The bases with buzzing with activity, as the Clackamas runners were bouncing around like popcorn.
"We try to be nuisances out there — we're trying to get in the pitcher's head," Mehlhaff said. "That's scored us a few extra runs over the course of the season, and it worked for us today."
Perhaps unsettled by the extra movement, Matterazzo sailed a pitch high.
That is all that Mehlhaff needed to see from third base.
"We work on going on anything — we want to be aggressive out there," he said. "I saw it go off the tip of the catcher's mitt, and I went for it and made a play."
Mehlhaff let out a loud shout accompanied by a fist pump on his way to the dugout after putting Clackamas on top 2-1.
"We got it tied up and moved ahead early, and that put all the pressure back on them," Arnston said.
Central Catholic tried to punch back in the fourth when Patrick Muskat led off with a double to left field, but he was unable to advance any farther along. Grote struck out a batter, and Cole Hegar came up with a catch in right field for the third out.
Clackamas would tack on two more runs in its side of the fourth, then relied on its defense to finish the job.
In the fifth, Mehlhaff tracked down a tall pop-up next to the Cavaliers' bullpen to strand the tying run at first.
The Rams went down in order in the sixth helped along when Grant Schoen made a catch on the run in shallow center field.
"I hit my spots and let my defense work," Grote said.
Jaha gobbled up a grounder to get the lead-off hitter in the seventh with Grote striking out the next batter. Central sent pinch-hitter Luke Farah to the plate, and he delivered a one-hopper down the third-base line, reaching first a blink before the throw arrived.
Central's hopes ended with Grote's strikeout off the final batter.
View photos at davidball.smugmug.com.
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