Central Catholic's Charlie Steuer got a 3-2 pitch from Clackamas' Nick Vaughn that he could do something with.
Steuer hit a pop up to shallow right field that fell in front of a diving Jack Dorn for a double that scored Atticus Kayser from second base with two outs in the sixth inning, lifting the Rams to a 1-0 victory over the Cavaliers in Tuesday's OSAA Class 6A baseball semifinals at Clackamas High School.
Junior left-hander Dylan MacLean threw a complete-game shutout, scattering five hits — all singles — with no walks and four strikeouts to help send the No. 15-seeded Rams (21-10) into Saturday's championship final against top-ranked Jesuit (25-5) at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
"All year long, we've known that we have the type of team that could make a playoff run like this," MacLean said. "We really didn't play up to our expectations in the regular season, so I guess finally proving ourselves really feels good."
Added Steuer: "It feels fantastic. I'm so excited. And we're not done."
It was a heart-wrenching loss for the No. 3-ranked Cavaliers (23-8), who fell one game short in their bid to reach the championship final for the third year in a row after getting shut out for only the second time this season.
"That one hurts," Cavaliers coach John Arntson said. "It went exactly as I thought it would. I told our guys it was probably going to be a one-run game, one way or the other.
"The hard part is I thought we played really, really well. I don't feel like we did anything wrong. It stings that a flare that wasn't even hit all that well over the first baseman's head is the difference, but that's baseball."
Vaughn, coming off a no-hitter against Lake Oswego in his previous playoff start, took a two-hit shutout into the sixth inning when Central Catholic sent Daniel Jefferies to pinch-hit for shortstop Thomas Ferroggiaro, batting in the No. 8 spot.
Jefferies, a senior left-hander, lined a 1-2 pitch into right for a single and then went to the bench as the Rams reinserted Ferroggiaro as a pinch-runner.
Next came Kayser, the No. 9 batter, who drew a four-pitch walk, putting runners at first and second with none out.
Vaughn then retired Christian Cooney on a pop out in foul territory near first back, setting the stage for Steuer.
Steuer, who had a single in the fourth inning for Central's first hit of the game, swung at missed at a 3-1 pitch with the runners moving. Clackamas catcher Brody Upton threw out Ferroggiaro at third base, Kayser went to second on the throw, and suddenly Vaughn was one strike away from getting out of the inning.
Steuer fouled off the next pitch and then got a fastball, low and away, and blooped it into right field.
"I've had pretty good success off of Nick Vaughn, so I was pretty confident up there," Steuer said. "I mean, I definitely felt like I needed to protect, but I'd also seen all of his pitches enough to know that he wasn't going to beat me with anything.
"So, I got my foot down and put a pretty good swing on the ball."
The ball was hit just deep enough that neither first baseman Nathan Vaughn nor second baseman Jackson Jaha could make a play, leaving Dorn, the freshman right fielder, to try and get his glove under it.
"It was one of those balls that we just kind of placed perfectly," Arntson said. "Dorn laid out and gave a great effort, but just couldn't quite get there."
By the time Dorn picked himself up and got the ball back into the infield, Steuer was sliding into second with an RBI-double.
"That kid just kept grinding in that at-bat," Rams coach Brian Grant said. "He really epitomized what we do as a team. He kept going forward, he fouled off a tough pitch, and … it doesn't have to be pretty to get the job done. It just has to get out there somewhere.
"You've got to keep putting the ball in play and making them make plays, and, eventually, hopefully, as it did, one will find a hole."
Clackamas threatened in the home half of the sixth when Alex Claxton singled up the middle with two outs and Nathan Vaughn followed with a single to right, putting runners on the corners. Jaha then drove a ball deep to left field when Central Catholic's Carson Lamprecht made an impressive running catch and few steps short of the fence.
MacLean then retired the Cavaliers in order in the seventh, getting a groundout, a strikeout, and a game-ending line out to shortstop.
"Obviously, Clackamas is a great hitting team," MacLean said. "They wouldn't be here if they weren't. But my defense really picked me up today. I mean, I probably couldn't have made it out of here without them.
"They made some big plays, like Carson's catch in the left field to end the sixth. That was huge."
Another key defensive play for Central Catholic came in the third inning when the Clackamas had runners on first and second with one out and MacLane got Cavaliers' leadoff batter Grant Schoen to ground sharply to Steuer, the third baseman, who stepped on the bag and then threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
"It was a heckuva game," Schoen said. "It's obviously tough to lose, but, honestly, I think they flat-out beat us. Their dude on the mound was efficient and he was hitting corners and not really throwing stuff over the middle of the plate for us to really get extended."
Claxton had two hits for Clackamas, while Dorn, Jaha, and Nathan Vaughn had one hit each.
"I hurt for our guys because this is one of the best games I think we've played, to be honest," Arntson said. "But that's a really good pitcher. Dylan MacLean, I tip my cap to him. He's a heckuva competitor and he did a great job, but I thought we battled and we squared up a lot of baseballs. We just didn't get any breaks.
"We played a great game. I don't know that there's anything I'd do differently. We didn't beat ourselves. We played really well."
Clackamas swept the three-game Mt. Hood Conference series against Central Catholic, including a 4-3 come-from-behind win in the series opener in which MacLean went 5 2/3 innings and surrendered three unearned runs on three hits with five walks and 10 strikeouts.
"I didn't even think about what happened in the regular season," MacLean said. "Honestly, it's the playoffs, so it's a brand new game and I just focused on today and that's it.
"The first time I pitched against them, I didn't have good command and that kind of got my pitch count up (110 pitches). So today, I was really focused on playing off their aggressiveness, getting them to roll over and getting outs while throwing fewer pitches."
MacLean threw 82 pitches Tuesday, which means he'll be available to start Saturday against Jesuit if the Rams decide to go that way.
Central Catholic is making its fourth appearance in the championship final, having finished second in 1946, 1998, and 2011.
"You dream about it, you think about, you work your tail off every day during the course of the season leading up to the playoffs, just trying to put your team in good positions," Grant said. "If they can play to their ability level and play the best baseball they can, then hopefully that's good enough to be in the conversation, because once you get down to this, there are no breaks.
"I can't even describe the feeling right now. There are no guarantees in this game, but we have one more opportunity, we get to play one more day of baseball this season, and we're going to give it everything we've got."
End of the line
Tuesday's loss marked the final game for Clackamas' eight seniors — Jack Dollens, Justin Gonzales, Tyson MacClanathan, Nathan Vaughn, Nick Vaughn, Claxton, Nelson, and Schoen. They leave behind a program that over the past four seasons compiled a 95-27 record overall and 58-10 in league play with four league titles, three appearances in the state semifinals, two trips to the final, and one state championship in 2017.
"It's definitely a tough pill to swallow, just because we all work so hard to hit balls hard," said Schoen, the Pepperdine-bound outfielder. "When you don't and that what loses you the game, it tough, but that's part of baseball, so you can't really do anything about it.
"All of our guys wanted to win. I mean, nobody necessarily wants to lose, but our guys wanted to win so badly, they'd do anything for it, and I think that's something that was pretty special about this group."
They also expected to be playing on Saturday.
"Our goal every year is to go down to Keizer and play for a title," Arntson said. "Right now, it hurts, but when I look back at it, what a season this team had. We've probably had more talented teams with better pitching and all those different things, but this team knew how to grind and found ways to win.
"After that Barlow series when we lost two out of three, that was kind of a turning point in the year. You could feel a difference in the team — they played with a chip on their shoulder after that series and it never left. They just kind of showed up to the field that way and I think that helped them play some really good baseball this last month."
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