One swing in the 13th gives Rams a playoff win
Central Catholic High's Christian Cooney tried to keep it simple as he dug in for his eighth time at bat Monday night at Sckavone Stadium.
With the Class 6A first-round playoff game against Wilson tied 2-2 and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 13th inning, he refused to think about how the Rams had twice left three runners on base. Or that Trojans senior Samson DeVol had thrown five shutout innings in relief.
DeVol had been using curveballs early in the count. So Cooney, a junior center fielder, was expecting one. He kept his hips back ... and laced a no-out, first-pitch bender to center field to win the game, 3-2.
"I was thinking, 'Nothing is getting by me. I'll swing at everything," Cooney said. "I could tell the whole game he was living with his curveball. I was expecting him to go there with it. I was waiting on it."
Rams coach Brian Grant said he also expected a similar sequence of pitches thrown to his leadoff hitter.
"He's not going to see good pitches," Grant said of Cooney. "Everyone knows one swing of that bat can change everything, which means they're going to throw a lot of breaking balls outside the zone.
"He's got such quick hands that he can grind and foul till a pitcher makes a mistake, and that's what happened in that last at-bat."
The sixth-ranked Rams (23-5) moved into the second round, where they will face No. 11 Roseburg (18-7) on Wednesday at Joe Etzel Field.
No. 27 Wilson finished its season 16-12.
In a game defined by pitching and defense, the Trojans matched Central Catholic inning for inning.
It came down to that lucky inning No. 13 for the Rams, who loaded the bases on junior outfielder Blake D'Ambrosio's infield single, a walk to senior outfielder Ted Stephenson and a bunt single by senior second baseman.
A few hours earlier, Grant gave the ball to his Rams ace, senior right-hander Sam Matterazzo.
"Game 1 was Sam," Grant said. "My philosophy is very simple: Every win is huge. We want to give ourselves the best chance to start 1-0, and I'm going to hand the ball to my best pitcher."
Throwing from a three-quarters arm slot and locating his fastball on the outside corner, Matterazzo cruised through the first six innings. He allowed two hits and struck out four — three with his slider.
Matterazzo was given a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth. Sophomore right fielder Jackson Elder hit a fly ball to center that was dropped, allowing senior catcher Dillon McNeil to score from second base.
Trojans starter Ben Haxby was every bit as efficient. The senior right-hander struck out five through six innings on two hits, mixing in a curve early and late in counts to complement a plus-fastball.
Up 1-0 in the top of the seventh, Matterazzo issued a single and a walk to start the frame. Grant stuck with Matterazzo — whose pitch count spiked in the fifth and sixth innings — after a mound visit.
Wilson pushed across a run with the bases loaded on an error by senior third baseman Connor Schaeffer, who botched a one-hop grounder attempting to throw home.
Matterazzo retired the next batter after Schaeffer converted a putout to home. With the bases still juiced, Matterazzo threw to first instead of home plate on Haxby's ground ball hit to the mound, allowing Wilson to take a 2-1 lead.
Matterazzo then converted the inning's final two outs.
Trojans coach Jeremy Shetler stuck with his ace in the seventh inning as well. Haxby got Schaeffer to ground out to start the frame, but a single and a walk put runners at first and third. Stephenson then hit a sacrifice fly to knot the score at 2-2.
"Baseball — sometimes it rewards you, sometimes it doesn't," Grant said. "I'm just so proud of them for pushing to that next pitch and scratching, trying to find a run to get that thing tied up and get it to extra innings."
Haxby loaded the bases after a hit batter with two out, but Shetler made no move to yank his starter. Haxby induced a pop out to the mound that left the bases loaded.
Grant went with Cooney to start the eighth inning, but the reliever did not record an out. A single and hit batter put runners at first and second, and foot cramps forced his exit.
Grant inserted junior left-hander Patrick Muskat, who used two strikeouts and a fly to third to end the threat.
Muskat and DeVol were even through the game's final 5 1/2 innings, Muskat, who started the game in center field, struck out seven in six innings and picked up the win.
"I saw a lot of late hacks," he said of watching Wilson's offense. "I knew they weren't timing it up very well, so I had to rear back and give it all I've got and hopefully blow a couple by them."
Muskat's relief effort came on a day when he struck out five times in the third spot of the Rams' batting order.
"That's a complete baseball player right there," Grant said of Muskat. "Offense dries up in this game, but pitching and defense needs to be consistent. And he was able to transition very well and find his value in another area."
Central Catholic again loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but DeVol recorded three strikeouts — all of them looking — to keep Wilson alive.
"To have the bases loaded and have DeVol strike out three on off-speed stuff, that just shows you what type of competitor he is," Shetler said.
The Rams also had a runner on second base in the 10th and 12th innings, but failed to push across a run.
Wilson's best chance to score in extras came in the top of the 12th. An error by shortstop Rowan Ramsey put left fielder Dezi Olivares on first. Olivares stole second on the ensuing pitch, but three consecutive fly outs left him stranded.
"That Wilson team, that's one heck of a team right there," Grant said. "To come out here and give it to us, everything we've got, my hat's off to them and their coaching staff."
Shetler will lose 10 seniors, nine of whom started Monday's Oregon School Activities Association playoff game.
"Sometimes these are the tough ones to swallow, more than getting blown out," Shetler said. "But a 3-2 game — 13 innings against a top-10 team — teams around the state will look at the score and say, 'Maybe Wilson (was better than advertised)."
In other Monday 6A first-round games: Grant advanced with a 4-1 victory over South Eugene at Walker Stadium; Lincoln lost 6-0 to Century at Gabriel Park; Jesuit downed visiting Sheldon, 6-0; and South Salem won 13-1 at home against Cleveland.
The Wednesday second-round pairings: Century at Westview, Gresham at West Linn, Tualatin at West Salem, West Albany at Jesuit, Grant at Clackamas, Roseburg at Central Catholic (University of Portland), Beaverton at South Salem, and Sprague at South Medford.