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The White Buffalos are heading to Banks tonight to tussle with the top team in Class 4A in the first round of the playoffs.

PMG PHOTO: TONY AHERN - Madras junior Dru Boyle (center) is congratulated by coaches and teammates after pitching the final five innings of the White Buffalos' 11-4 play-in round win over Elmira/Triangle Lake on Saturday, May 21.

The Madras baseball team is heading to Banks, with a chance to take down the No. 1 team in the state on their own turf.

Following Madras' 11-4 win over Elmira/Triangle Lake in the play-in round of the postseason, the White Buffalos are officially into the final 16-team bracket of the OSAA 4A Baseball State Championship tournament. Their reward for beating the Falcons is a trip to face top-seeded Banks later this afternoon, Wednesday, May 25.

While the Buffs were victorious in their postseason opener, the final result was in doubt early on after Madras surrendered four runs in the top of the second inning on Saturday, May 20, against the Falcons. Big early innings have become a bit too commonplace for the White Buffalos; however, Madras has won three games in a row when its opponent draws first blood — and each of those games were pivotal to getting the Buffs into the playoffs.

"It's like they've got to spot a team a lead before we actually start playing," joked head coach Jerry Shaw of his team's most recent wins.

As junior starting pitcher Ayden Holcomb struggled to hit his spots in a difficult strike zone, the Falcons took advantage of a leadoff walk by smacking four hits in the second inning. Elmira had a pair of RBI doubles in the frame, but the visitors' lead would not last long after Holcomb induced a groundout to third to end the inning.

PMG PHOTO: TONY AHERN - Madras seniors Ethan Graeme (left) and Carter Dunten celebrate after Graeme came around to score during the Buffs' 11-4 win over Elmira/Triangle Lake on Saturday, May 21. The pair combined for six total RBIs in the game.Madras immediately fired back in the bottom of the inning, with junior Dru Boyle reaching second base on an error at shortstop. Boyle was knocked in by senior Ethan Graeme's RBI double on the next pitch, and suddenly the tide was turning. The Falcons' defense and pitching continued its downward spiral as the Buffs plated four more runs in the inning thanks to a smattering of walks and Elmira errors, as well as a three-RBI single from senior Carter Dunten.

"Our mantra is to keep chipping away and go back to work," explained Shaw, "so I told the guys, 'Don't try to do it all in one inning.'"

"But they decided to go ahead and score five in the bottom of the second — so, that was not a bad thing," Shaw added with a laugh.

By the start of the third inning, Madras went from being down four runs to leading by one. In order to keep the momentum going in the right direction, Shaw went with a change on the mound and gave the ball to Boyle. The junior has been extremely effective from the rubber all year long, and he was stellar once again on Saturday in relief. Boyle allowed just two hits — and no runs — the rest of the way.

Thanks to that long second inning, Boyle was able to get warm in the bullpen and come out guns blazing in the third. Against the first two batters he faced, Boyle recorded two of his six total strikeouts.

For a game that started off with a bit of a scare, Madras' own big inning — and the stout pitching and defense that followed — gave way to some levity in the dugout between Shaw and Boyle.

"It was good getting him going and seeing him really pound the strike zone like he did and just shove it down their throats," Shaw said of Boyle's relief appearance. "The two hits they got off of him, he came up to me and said, 'I hung those curveballs.' I smiled at him and said, 'Well, then don't hang your curveball anymore.'"

After Madras put up another four runs in the third — including another RBI for Dunten — Elmira made their own pitching change in hopes of stopping the bleeding. While the Falcons' two relievers only gave up one run apiece, the damage was already done. Boyle helped his own cause at the plate with an RBI double in the fourth, and he was knocked in by freshman Jackson Hertel after hitting a one-out triple in the sixth to round out the scoring.

With their play-in game out of the way, Madras' focus now turns to their next opponent, the top-ranked Braves of Banks.

"They're a quality team," said Shaw of the Braves, noting that he spoke with some of Banks' earlier opponents to build out a scouting report. "They've got guys that can hit the ball really well. Their top five are probably their best hitters, and they've got a big lefty that has been pretty impressive and has shut some teams down pretty handily."

The big duo to watch for are senior captains Colton Hesselman — the left-handed pitcher that Shaw described — and Charlie White, who earned high praise from rival coaches for his work behind the plate as a catcher.

"I think he is going to be really similar to Evan Holman, the catcher from North Marion," Shaw elaborated. "Unless a ball really gets by him, we're probably not going to be doing too much (running). And with a left-handed pitcher, you don't get those big leads. You've got to stay close. We can't get picked off."

"We've got to be smart about our baserunning this week," he emphasized.

PMG PHOTO: TONY AHERN - While Madras head coach Jerry Shaw (center) had high praise for a few of Banks' players, he thinks the Buffs can hang with the top-ranked Braves. 'I don't think there's any team that's too big for them,' said Shaw.Though Banks comes into the game with a shiny 'No. 1' next to its name, Shaw was quick with a reminder that the rankings don't matter once the teams step out onto the field.

"The beautiful thing about baseball is that, it's not a sport where a team can have physically dominant people and then it's an uphill battle," said the coach. "With baseball, it's inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch."

"If we come in and play clean, if our pitching's good and we hit the ball," he continued, "then we have as equal a chance as anybody to pull out a win."

By virtue of being the lowest-ranked team remaining in the playoff field, the remainder of the Buffs' season will be played on the road. That prospect is not too daunting to Shaw, who notes that the team has played well in away games this year. As for taking on the top team in Class 4A, Madras is happy to play David to the Goliath waiting for them in Banks.

"We're going to just keep being little ole Madras, trying to see what we can do and put our best foot forward," Shaw said. "I'm super proud of these guys. They are a team that shows a lot of resiliency and grit."

"I don't think there's any team that's too big for them," the coach concluded. "I think they'll be able to keep battling. My message to them is, 'we're never out of the fight.' As long as we've got outs left, we're going to keep fighting."

First pitch in today's game is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Banks High School. According to the OSAA website, a live radio broadcast of the game will be provided by KWSO-Warm Springs at kwso.org or 91.9 FM on your radio dial. Banks will also provide a radio broadcast online via Westside Mobile Media at www.westsidesgreatesthits.net.


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