Hillsboro defeats Sandy, claims NWOC title
With a district title on the line in the regular season finale, Sandy was stymied by the pitching performance of Hillsboro's Kane Kiaunis.
The sophomore right-hander went the distance on the bump, giving up just one run on seven hits as Hillsboro clinched the Northwest Oregon Conference crown with a 6-1 victory over Sandy on Friday night.
"I was locating my off-speed stuff really well today and they just weren't hitting it," Kiaunis said. "I was really just trying to rely on my defense."
This was just the second time all season that Sandy had been held to just one run.
"Our pitch selection wasn't very good, especially when we got down in the count," Sandy head coach Rick Martin said. "
With the loss, Sandy completes their regular season with a 14-3 record in NWOC play. Hillsboro — despite losing all nine of their non-league contests to start the season — finished with a 15-2 mark.
"Not going to lie, this feels really good," Hillsboro head coach Bob Berent said. "How can anyone not leave this field without feeling like baseball is going really good around here?"
After Sandy went down in order to start the top of the first, Hillsboro was able to manufacture a run in their opening at-bats to take the early lead. Leadoff hitter Curran Mitzel got aboard with a bunt single and then stole second and third base before Joshua O'Neal knocked him in with a RBI-groundout.
With one out in the bottom of the third, Cameron Losey hit a line drive to left field that Sandy's Jacob Dukart looked like he had a beat on, but when he went for the diving catch, the ball hit the palm of his mitt and then bounced out onto the grass. Losey strolled into second with a huge double that ended up having big ramifications on this ball game.
Kiaunis would reach on an infield single and O'Neal would get to first on a free pass, which loaded up the bases.
It looked like Sandy pitcher Colby Carson might get out of the inning after striking out Miles Littlejohn for the second out. But in what ended up being one of the biggest at-bats of his career, senior outfielder Tommy Wolfe came through for his squad when they needed him.
Wolfe roped a fastball into center field that fell for a base hit, which easily scored Losey and Kiaunis. Wolfe looked to be dead-to-rights as he was heading for second since Carson cutoff the throw from Kyle Hudson in center field, but Carson's toss to second base sailed back into the outfield and O'Neal wound up scoring on the error, clearing the bases and giving Hillsboro the 4-0 advantage.
"That's the situation you always want to be in and I executed exactly how I wanted to," Wolfe said. "I was expecting a fastball and (Carson) gave it to me on the outside corner."
The Spartans would score once more in the frame on a RBI-hit by Colin Gray to extend their lead to 5-0.
Carson didn't give up a run in the rest of his outing — he was pulled after the bottom of the fifth — but it was that third inning that came back to haunt him.
"I was trying to throw the ball low to get them to groundout but they kept getting balls to drop and found spots in the outfield," Carson said.
The Pioneers could only muster two hits off Kiaunis in his first five innings of work, but they looked poised for a potential breakout moment in the top of the sixth after a RBI-single from Colby Bonner cut the lead to 5-1.
Carson and Talati Polamalu each followed with hits of their own to load the bases with one out. Sandy, however, could not take advantage as Tyler King popped out to second and Ethan Wright struck out on a breaking ball to end the frame.
"When your chasing four runs, it can be tough," Martin said. "You got to take advantage of moments like that."
Kiaunis got into trouble once again in the top of seventh after giving up one-out hits to Kevin Drake and Dukart. But after a mound visit, the young pitcher struck out Cam Conger and forced Carson to ground out to end the game — which was the beginning of the celebration for the Spartans.
While Sandy is disappointed that they fell a game short of the conference title, the Pioneers are now focused on what lies ahead of them in the postseason.
"I told the kids there was nothing to hang their heads about," Martin said. "We got kicked off-track by a really hot team, but we'll get back on…We're looking forward to getting a bye in the first round and getting some home playoff games."