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The Bulldogs are headed to the postseason after a giant road win over Kennedy, which was ranked No. 1 coming into the day.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Culver freshman Houston Wittenburg (pictured) had a big day at the plate in the Bulldogs' 8-3 win over top-ranked Kennedy on Wednesday, May 11. Wittenburg went 2-of-4 with four RBIs, and he also took to the mound in relief of senior Brayden Macy for the final four outs of the game.

It's official — Culver baseball is going to the playoffs.

After falling to Kennedy in the first two games of the series, the Bulldogs knocked off the top-ranked Trojans 8-3 to close out a road doubleheader on Wednesday, May 11. The win puts Culver at 12-6 in 2A/1A Special District 2 play and locks them into a top-three finish in the league — and gives the Bulldogs one of the district's automatic berths into the postseason.

"Kennedy is always at the top of the league," said Culver head coach Joey Graves, who is in his fourth season at the helm. "So, to get that win for our seniors, it definitely feels good for them. Huge confidence boost to beat the No. 1 team in the state."

The Bulldogs entered the final week of play needing just one victory to secure a spot in the playoffs, and it looked for a time like they might not get it. Coming into the series opener on Tuesday, May 10, Kennedy was ranked No. 1 in the classification and had scored the most runs in 2A/1A ball while allowing the fewest. Following the loss, the Trojans slipped down to No. 3 on Thursday morning.

Despite their opponent being so highly ranked, the Bulldogs never backed down from the challenge.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Culver junior Logan Macy pitched a great game against Kennedy in the series opener at home on Tuesday, May 10. Macy held the league's best offense to just two runs on three hits while striking out 11 batters.In Tuesday's game at home, Culver fell in a closely contested 2-0 loss to the Trojans. That was only the second time all season that Kennedy had been held to three or fewer runs, and it came on the back of a strong pitching performance from Culver junior Logan Macy — who also had all three of the team's hits out of the clean-up spot in the order, as well as two stolen bases.

"Logan pitched lights out," said Graves. "He was really good. We just struggled at the plate that first game — their pitchers are just good."

The teams then met in a doubleheader on Wednesday in Mt. Angel, and the Trojans grabbed an 8-2 win thanks to a late push. Culver senior Gabe Wilson was on the mound for that game, and Graves noted that his pitcher started to run out of gas down the stretch. That allowed Kennedy to put up four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning as they stretched their lead from two runs to six.

At the plate, Culver continued to struggle against the Trojans' strong pitching. senior Brayden Macy had an RBI single to drive in sophomore Aiden Guest, who had the Bulldogs' only other hit in the first game of the doubleheader. Carlos Fernandez, a freshman, also scored on a passed ball.

"For six innings, it was a 4-2 baseball game," noted Graves, who also mentioned Wilson's long day on the mound. "Gabe threw 105 pitches and kind of ran out of gas right there at the end. Up to that point, it was a great game."

In the final game of the series, Culver finally allowed themselves to loosen up.

"In between the two games, we just told them, 'Go out there and have fun. Be loose,'" said Graves.

After scoring just two runs in the first two games, the Bulldogs put up two in the top of the first inning thanks to some poor control from Kennedy's Game 2 starter. Culver earned four walks in the first, and senior Braeden Chapman came around to score on a passed ball to open the scoring. Then, Wilson was driven in by an RBI groundout from freshman Houston Wittenburg to make it 2-0.

Wittenburg and Logan Macy added RBI singles in the top of the third to make the score 4-0, and Kennedy answered back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the frame on two Culver errors. The teams then traded scoreless innings back and forth until the top of the seventh, when Wittenburg knocked in two more runs with his second hit of the game. With two outs, Wittenburg and fellow freshman Jace Silbernagel came around to score the final two runs for Culver when Fernandez reached via error.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Culver senior Brayden Macy was the starting pitcher in the Bulldogs' 8-3 win over top-ranked Kennedy on Wednesday, May 11. Macy finished with seven strikeouts while allowing just two unearned runs on four hits against the top offense in the 2A/1A classification.Kennedy added one run back in the bottom of the seventh, but Wittenburg worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam to limit the damage. The freshman came in to finish the sixth inning after starter Brayden Macy threw 110 pitches. Macy tossed a gem against Kennedy, striking out seven in five-plus innings of work while allowing two runs on four hits and two walks.

In all three games, Culver displayed strong defense behind its pitching staff — something that Graves says will help the club going forward.

"If you take care of the baseball and make routine plays, those extraordinary plays will come," said the fourth-year head coach. "It's when you're fumbling around those routine plays and making errors that teams tend to capitalize. That's where a lot of runs can stack up."

"At some points throughout the season, we've had ups and downs defensively," continued Graves, "but not this weekend."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - With a playoff spot in hand, Culver plans to get back to basics as they prepare for the postseason.The Bulldogs will likely have one final game to close out the regular season, but their third matchup against Colton has not yet been rescheduled after rain forced a postponement. Regardless, Culver owns the tiebreaker over Santiam, the only team that can still catch them in the standings.

As such, Culver can start preparing for the postseason as they await word of who they will face. According to Graves, those preparations will begin with getting back to fundamentals.

"We're going to look at different kinds of defenses — bunt defense, first-to-third defense — and just focus on taking care of the routine plays. We're going to continue with our ground balls and fly balls every day, and some hitting" said Graves of the team's focus in its upcoming practices. "We'll reach back to focus on different situations so we can be ready for it and not get surprised by anything."

The OSAA 2A/1A Baseball State Championships begin on Monday, May 23, with the second round taking place on Wednesday, May 25. Quarterfinals and semifinals will be played on May 27 and May 31, respectively, with the championship game scheduled for Friday, June 3.

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