No. 2-ranked Century falls to Central Catholic 3-2
The magical run that started with a win over Grant and led to a Pacific Conference title, ended with a premature thud for the No. 2-ranked Century baseball team in the second round of the OSAA state playoffs Wednesday, May 22, in front of a lively crowd at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.
The Jaguars fell behind early to the Central Catholic Rams, scratched their way back, then watched as a golden opportunity to take back the game was whisked away at the tail-end of a fifth inning double play, that seemed to spell doom for one of the state's favorites to take home the championship trophy.
Trailing 3-1 entering the fifth, Century pulled within one then loaded the bases with but one out, yet failed to get anyone else across and two innings later watched as the visiting Rams celebrated on the Jags' de facto home field.
"That was a dream scenario for us," Century head coach Mason Wright said. "The pressure was solely on Central right there to make a big play, and you have to tip your cap to them for getting out of that jam. That's the game of baseball. We had two guys up that have really stepped up for us in really big spots, but unfortunately we weren't able to capitalize."
Central was solid from top to bottom, making the most of big plays at both the plate and on the mound. The Rams got two triples from senior Christian Cooney, solid pitching from starter Jackson Elder, and a clutch relief performance from senior Clayton Reich, who pitched his way out of the aforementioned fifth inning jam and allowed just a single hit over the final three innings.
Wright wasn't surprised by the quality of Central's play, but more so by their seed (No. 15) coming into the tournament.
"I don't think their end of year ranking accurately depicted just how good they are," said Wright. "I think they're a legitimate contender."
The Rams jumped on Century starter Justyn Herzog in the first inning when Cooney tripled to lead-off the game, then scored on a Patrick Muskat single. After a fielder's choice, a walk and a passed ball put runners on second and third with two outs, Central added a second run on a Jaguars error to make the score 2-0.
The visitors added a third run in the second inning when after two quick outs, Atticus Kayser was hit by a pitch, then scored on Cooney's second triple of the game, this one on a fly ball to left field that made it 3-0. Century didn't panic however, due primarily to a history of come-from-behind wins both this season and in years past.
"I think when you give up runs early, especially loud runs like they got, those add to the intensity of the situation," Wright said. "But our guys have been in that situation a lot so I didn't get the impression our guys were pressing any more. They were confident they'd have opportunities to get back into the game, and they did."
They started in the fourth when they scratched across their first run on an Ian Lawson walk, followed by consecutive hits by Blake Baccay and Alex Garcia. The latter of which cut the lead to 3-1. Then, after the Rams went quietly in the top of the fifth, Century started what they sadly couldn't finish in their half of the inning.
Gene Quitugua got things started when he was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Three pitches later Nathan Martinez singled on a bunt down the first baseline, putting runners on first and second with no one out and the heart of the Century lineup coming to the plate. Next, Micky Thompson singled to right field on a two-two count, scoring Quitugua, then after Herzog singled to left, the bases were loaded, there was still no one out, and the Jaguars were a couple of hits away from blowing the game open. But the Rams had other thoughts, and when they replaced Elder on the mound with Reich — everything changed.
The Central Catholic reliever got Lawson swinging, then with one out and the bases still loaded, the crafty right-hander got Jared Gordon to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play, maintaining their one run lead and ending what would come to be the Jaguars' last real threat.
"That was an ideal spot for us," Wright said. "To be so close like that and have opportunities but to walk away empty handed, is a bit hard to digest in the moment. "
The loss ended what was an otherwise great year for Century on the diamond, one that included the school's first league title in 17 years. Wright had nothing but praise for his team afterwards, especially the senior class that he feels will be forever remembered for what they did for the school and program. Not just in the win/loss column, but also off the field, where he couldn't say enough things about who they are as young men.
"I always try to remind guys at the end of seasons, that this game's not going to define who they are as individuals," said the coach. "It feels that way in the moment, but these guys have so much to be proud of. Hopefully down the road they can reflect on that positively, and I think they will."
And how does the coach feel about next year's team, despite the departure of a large chunk of talent and leadership?
"We feel good about next year's team," Wright said. "We have some key guys returning and some seniors that will be a little green regarding experience, but it's a good group and I feel good about it."
Martinez led Century with two hits, while Thompson, Herzog, Garcia and Blake Baccay added one apiece.
Herzog was solid on the mound, going all seven innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits while striking out five and walking one.