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BY KYLE GARCIA/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Crusaders catch underdog Rams in bottom of 7th

PMG PHOTO: KYLE GARCIA - Jesuit players break their huddle with the Class 6A trophy at Volcanoes Stadium after a 13-inning victory over Central Catholic.KEIZER — In a marathon, 13-inning game at Volcanoes Stadium, the top-seeded Jesuit Crusaders defeated the Central Catholic Rams 2-1.

It was the longest state championship game since 1983.

"Amazing run," Jesuit assistant coach Dave Schoppe said. "Very proud of our kids. It's been a long season and to play a game like this in 13 innings is unbelievable."

"In all honesty, you hate to lose a championship," Central Catholic head coach Brian Grant said. "Nobody wants to lose, but pride is the only thing I feel right now. These boys gave it their everything, and that's all they could do."

With runners on second and third in the bottom of the 13th, Kevin Blair hit an RBI single to right field to bring in the winning run. The junior went 4 for 7 at the plate.

"It's kind of surreal," Blair said "It hasn't really kicked in what just happened."

Senior John Trausch was the winning pitcher, working the final two innings and giving up no runs with two strikeouts.

Senior Clayton Reich took the loss after giving up 11 hits and two earned runs in 8.2 innings.

The Rams piled up errors early, with three in the first two innings. In the second inning, an errant throw from junior starter Dylan MacLean to first and another error at second led to loaded bases for the Crusaders.

Jesuit (26-5) struggled to take advantage early, however, leaving runners in scoring position three times in the first three innings without getting on the board. It was a consistent theme for the Crusaders, who had 13 hits but were mostly unable to translate them into runs.

"We got players on, then we just kept hitting balls to their players," said Blair, third baseman and Jesuit player of the game. "We kept doing it all right, but we just didn't have any luck."

Starting pitcher Mick Abel kept the Crusaders in the game, getting 10 strikeouts and giving up one run in eight innings.

"Throw strikes," Abel said with a chuckle about his pitching strategy. "Just throw strikes. Down in the zone. I try to get ground balls, try to get pop outs, so down in the zone. That's the key to my pitching."

Central Catholic (21-11) got on the board in the top of the fourth, with senior first baseman Patrick Muskat hitting a line drive between second and third to bring home senior center fielder Christian Cooney.

Muskat was the player of the game for the Rams, going 2 for 5 with another single in the ninth.

The game stayed a defensive battle from there. It seemed like the Rams would need only that one run to become the lowest seed (15th) ever to win a state championship.

"It got a little surreal at times," Grant said. "You're like 'Wow, this is really happening right now. We're in a dogfight, and neither team is giving an inch."

But the Crusaders earned the magic run that saved their season in the seventh inning. Shortstop Will Spitznagel hit a single to get on base. Senior center fielder Kellar McCarthy singled to right field to get Spitznagel into scoring position, with an error at second advancing him to third. He scored on a fielder's choice the next play. Junior designated hitter James Porter then flew out to left to end the inning.

In extra innings, each team had runners in scoring position multiple times only to fall just short of scoring.

"Through 13 innings, I didn't even know if I was going to stay awake," Abel said before rushing over to celebrate with a team photo. "We kept it tight the entire time, and that really just got my energy buzzing and I was pumped the entire game. I'm on another level right now."

Abel said the Crusaders never lost faith.

"We've been fighting these entire playoffs," he said. "I'm pretty sure that's our third walk-off."

Although it will go down as a loss for the Rams, Grant called it a special season.

"That's what we worked for all year," he said. "No matter the game, no matter the opponent, just keep going. And that's what they did today. Unfortunately, we came up short, but I can't tell you how proud I am."

The Crusaders were ready to celebrate and then relax after a long, hot day.

"We're going to cool down," Schoppe said. "We're kind of hot right now, but we're going to celebrate this, get together and embrace this. This team deserves this. It's been a long season, and we couldn't be more proud of them."

"I have so much trust in my teammates and my brothers," Abel said. "This is the most amazing team I've ever been a part of, and I'll remember all these guys for the rest of my life. I don't know what to say. I'm just flabbergasted."

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