Westview baseball roars back, beats Grants Pass in 6A first round
Who wants to be a hero?
Steve Antich's rhetorical question hung in the sweltering spring air as the Westview baseball team ran in for the bottom of half of the sixth inning, staring down the barrel of a 2-1 deficit to a surprisingly pushy Grants Pass squad.
The Wildcats, to that point, had fallen victim to the hazards of baseball's second season. The Metro League champions came out flat in the first round of the Class 6A postseason on Monday. The bats couldn't connect against Cavemen pitcher Tyler Rund. And twice Grants Pass was able to get to Westview ace Willie Weiss and put runs on the board.
The No. 23 Cavemen came to Westview with intentions of pulling off the upset and were in prime position to do so.
But when the Wildcat manager asked his team who was ready to wear the cape and carry Westview on to the second round, it wasn't one guy who grabbed the bull by the horns, but a handful of pivotal contributors.
Spurred on by a monster game-tying solo homer by Mante Woods, a courageous go-ahead dash home by Jason Tai and some two-way mastery from Weiss, No. 7 Westview scored four runs in the sixth to clinch a 5-2 win at Westview High School.
"We had to earn another seven innings because they weren't going to be handed to us like they are in the regular season," Woods said. "We knew we had to come into this game and battle. We knew we couldn't take any team lightly. We were playing pretty selfishly at the beginning, trying to get everything we could, but we really came together as a unit."
"Coming out here every day (in the playoffs) our backs are against the wall, and as a senior, every game could be my last," Tai said. "Somewhere in the middle of the game, it hit that I could be looking at my last four innings of baseball. We got pumped up."
The Wildcats will play No. 26 Oregon City at Westview High School in the second round of the 6A playoffs on Wednesday. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
"In a playoff atmosphere you know everything is going to be tough," Woods said. "I love those games knowing we have to scrap and battle for everything we get — those are the ones I prefer rather than the blowouts. We just have to go in and play our hardest and hopefully, the game goes in our favor."
"I have a lot of faith in these guys," Tai said. "We've been in a lot of close ball games. We have a great pitching staff that keeps us in a lot of games. If we have guys step up, do their jobs and play together, I think we can beat any team in Oregon."
Grants Pass actually led 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth before Weiss sliced the deficit in half with an RBI groundout to make it 2-1. After Weiss retired the side in the top half of the sixth, Woods led off the inning, hoping to trigger the sort of game-swinging rally that turns playoff games upside down. And, facing Rund on a 0-2 count, the left-handed hitting Woods obliterated a fastball on the inside half of the plate that sailed over the right field fence and evened the game up 2-2.
"That's just my nature — I swing hard," Woods said with a smile. "I approach every at-bat with a 0-2 (in the count) mentality. I was thinking curveball, but he threw me a fastball trying to get me off-balance. I just put it a good swing on it and it went out of here. It all meshed well. I knew the ball was gone as soon as the ball hit my bat."
No stranger to the postseason after helping Scappoose win a 4A state championship as a freshman in 2015, Woods fearlessly injected life back both into the teetering Wildcats and their home park.
"It changed the game completely," Tai said. "Mante's been great for us. He's been a big part of this team all season, so for him to come up with that hit was huge and gave us some momentum."
Rund continued to run into trouble when he walked Ben Braukmann with nobody out. Braukmann was promptly subbed out for the speedy Tai, who stole second base standing up and moved to third on a fielder's choice.
With Jason Moreno at the plate, Tai dangerously played a game possum with Cavemen catcher Spencer Padgett dancing down the third base side, outwardly daring the senior backstop to throw his way. The first time Tai scampered back to the bag safely as Padgett threw down to third. The second time, with Antich calling for a suicide squeeze, Padgett called Tai's bluff and caught the senior pinch runner slipping down the third base line. Padgett fired a seed to the Grants Pass third baseman as Tai looked dead to rights halfway between third base and home, stuck in a pickle that could've been proven fatal.
However, speed, as they say, kills.
And as the Cavemen tried to peg Tai at home, the game's eventual hero slid head-first and stuffed his right hand across the dish as the throw died in the dirt and squirted away, setting off a rocking celebration from the crew of Wildcat fans sitting behind home plate and the Westview dugout.
Westview 3, Grants Pass 2.
"I didn't want this to be my last game," Tai said. "I knew the third baseman would have to make a perfect throw to get me. I tried to get my hand in there as best as I could and try to get in safe. For me to get that run, knowing our pitchers were gonna shut it down was huge and the crowd was wild. We have great fans. And having my whole team come out to greet me was just the best feeling."
Still searching for insurance in a one-run contest, Pilat drilled a double and Jacob Cox walked. And with two outs, Weiss slapped a two-run single to right that tacked on two more runs and extended the lead to 5-2.
Cox came on in the seventh in relief of Weiss on the mound and sat down three straight Cavemen to get the save and send Westview onward into the second round. Weiss kept Westview in the contest, giving up just two runs in six innings of work and finished with three RBIs.
"It felt good to get the win as a unit knowing not one guy did, but the entire team came together and go the win for us," Woods.