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After going down 5-0 early on, Madras scored the final 10 runs of the game to beat Molalla in a crucial league game at home.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Ethan Graeme made the most of his Senior Night on Wednesday, May 11, hitting a three-RBI triple and then coming around to score the tying run as Madras came back from a five-run deficit to beat Molalla 10-5. Graeme also pitched a scoreless seventh inning for the White Buffalos to seal the victory on Wednesday.

While the postseason might not officially start for another two weeks, Madras baseball is officially in playoff mode.

The Madras baseball team survived a Senior Night scare from visiting Molalla on Wednesday, May 11, defeating the Indians in a 10-5 comeback win at home. The win keeps the White Buffalos in control of third place in the Tri-Valley Conference — and the automatic playoff berth that comes with it.

"We wanted this one. We want to take that third spot outright," said Madras head coach Jerry Shaw after the game. "We don't want to back-door into anything. I told these boys tonight, 'We are in playoff baseball.'"

Madras starting pitcher Conner Flu surrendered five runs in the first inning, an unexpected opening salvo from the fifth-place Indians. However, the Buffs broke the game open in the third inning with a five-run frame of their own as starting pitcher Conner Flu kept the visitors off the scoreboard down the stretch. Molalla was able to collect four hits and four walks off of Flu in the first two innings, but the junior pitcher only allowed one baserunner for the rest of his outing — and that runner reached by error when a hard-hit ball deflected off third baseman Ethan Graeme's thigh. Flu finished with 12 strikeouts in the win in his first start of the season.

"Having the guys not cave, it's kind of been our mission," said Shaw of the team's resilience after going down early in the game. "Battling back through those — we call them 'Mickey Mouse innings' — we do that, and it's a chance to chip away and finally come back."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Madras seniors Reece White (center) and Ethan Graeme (left) reassure junior starting pitcher Conner Flu (right) before the second inning of the team's 10-5 win over Molalla on Wednesday, May 11. After giving up five runs in the first, Flu settled down and pitched a gem over his final four innings, racking up 12 strikeouts in the win.In fact, Flu was not the original choice to start Wednesday's game, according to Shaw. The head coach had originally tabbed senior Carson King to toe the rubber for the Molalla game, but a nagging injury cropped up for King during a bullpen session and forced the switch. During the rocky first inning, Shaw called a mound visit with Flu, catcher Cael White and the rest of the infield to calm his pitcher down. Then, prior to the second inning, Graeme and fellow senior Reece White gave more encouragement to their junior teammate.

"We had a mound meeting, and I just told Conner, 'Stop thinking. Just go out and pitch,'" Shaw noted of his conversation with Flu. "He started figuring out what he was doing — and Cael did a great job behind the plate — and then he started throwing strikes."

At that point, the Buffs never again had need to go check on Flu. Even better, his solid pitching performance was met with a well-timed resurgence at the plate for the White Buffalos.

Madras managed to get a run across in the first inning on Dru Boyle's groundout RBI, but the tide truly turned in the bottom of the third. Ayden Holcomb hit a double on either side of Boyle and Jackson Hertel being hit by pitches, which loaded the bases for Graeme — who promptly hit a three-run triple to deep left field. The senior came around to score on a passed ball a few plays later, before Flu helped his own cause by knocking in Noah Vibbert with a go-ahead RBI single.

"It was important to get (the offense) going," Shaw said of the big third inning, and specifically of Graeme's bases-clearing triple. "As soon as that came, everyone let out a breath. Until we get that one clutch hit, we're waiting for it and waiting for it — then, once it comes, it's just contagious."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - After reaching base on an RBI single, Madras senior Carter Dunten scores from second base on Cael White's two-run single in the fifth inning of the White Buffalos' 10-5 win over Molalla on Wednesday, May 11.The Buffs tacked on four more runs in the fifth inning to round out the scoring, with senior Carter Dunten kickstarting the big frame. With two outs, both Flu and Tyler Clarkson reached base via error and set up Dunten for an RBI opportunity. The senior did not disappoint, slapping the first pitch he saw into left field and driving Clarkson in from second. Dunten then stole a base and came around to score on Cael White's two-run single.

The final run of the game was scored by Madras senior Mason Strong, one of the team's reserves who often steps in for White on the base paths to keep the catcher fresh. Strong did just that in the fifth, and he showed off his skills by stealing second and third before coming around to score on a Holcomb single.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Madras junior Conner Flu pitched the first six innings for the White Buffalos before moving back to his normal position of shortstop for the final frame. In the seventh, he nearly made the defensive play of the game on a scoop and diving throw to first base, but the Molalla runner was called safe — much to the chagrin of the Madras faithful in attendance. Flu also singled in the go-ahead run during the third inning.Graeme pitched a scoreless, if slightly worrisome, seventh inning for the White Buffalos to preserve the win. Down to their final out, the Indians picked up an infield hit when Flu — who moved to his usual position of shortstop after coming off the mound — was unable to beat the runner with a diving throw to first base after an impressive scoop. The next Molalla batter sent a fly ball into shallow center field that would have scored at least one run had Boyle not made his own impressive defensive play, a running snag for the final out of the game.

Despite the win and all the fun of Senior Night, the Buffs do not have much time to rest before another huge test. Madras hosts Estacada on Thursday, May 12, in a critical game to decide third place in the Tri-Valley.

The Buffs are currently 1.5 games ahead of Estacada in the league standings — but if the Rangers beat Madras and then defeat Molalla on Monday, May 16, then Estacada would claim the third automatic playoff spot from the TVC. Regardless of the result of Thursday's game, Madras would still be likely to make the playoffs as an at-large team given their No. 15 OSAA computer ranking. However, taking third in the league would open up the possibility of hosting a game in the postseason.

"It's going to be for all the marbles," Shaw said of the finale against the Rangers.

First pitch in Thursday's game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Madras High School.


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