Lions get hot, bag four wins in a row
All of a sudden, after an admitted bout of early season inconsistency brought on by inexperience, the St. Helens baseball team is starting to click.
And with playoff implications hanging in the balance, the turnaround couldn't have come at a better time.
After losing its series opener to Scappoose, St. Helens took the final two games of the set. The Lions beat the Indians 3-1 in the rubber match at St. Helens on April 26.
This week, the Lions beat visiting Milwaukie 7-6 on Tuesday and downed the Mustangs 11-6 on Wednesday at Milwaukie.
That extended the Lions' win streak to four games going into Friday's 5 p.m. series finale at home against Milwaukie.
The Lions have raised their record to 4-7 (fifth in the Northwest Oregon Conference) and 5-14 overall.
"We're starting to turn in the right direction," St. Helens coach Jeff Timmons said.
The Tuesday triumph at home against Milwaukie was a memorable one in that the Lions came from behind twice in the final two innings.
They pulled even at 3-3 by punching across a run in the sixth, using two Mustang errors.
Milwaukie appeared in command again, though, after scoring three runs in the top of the seventh.
But in the bottom half of the seventh, the Lions struck for four runs. Jacobi Allen led off with a single. Jackson Hald was hit by a pitch. Justin Olson walked to load the bases. Then Kaleb Edwards delivered a two-run single, and Ashton Smith hit a sacrifice fly to tie the score at 6-6. The next batter, Jared Hora, hit a hard ground ball to second base that scored Edwards for the walk-off victory.
Allen was 3 for 3 with two RBIs in that game.
Klein pitched 6.1 innings, and Edwards got the final two outs and the win.
Taking two of three from Scappoose was a catalyst of sorts for what has come after that.
"The bats started to come alive a little bit toward the end of the (Scappoose) series," Timmons said. "We started to score a few runs. We got cleaner defensively. The pitching has been awesome.
"Taking two of three from Scappoose was big for us. It's always a big deal playing them, and it's something that's going to be fun moving forward."
St. Helens junior pitcher Drew Sullivan allowed just one run on five hits in a six-strikeout complete game against Scappoose on April 26.
Sophomore Edwards also pitched a complete game against the Indians, and senior ace Klein went 6.2 innings in the series open.
Sullivan, Edwards and Klein have developed into a quality three-headed rotation over the course of the year, with Sullivan being the latest to carry the mail on the mound in a huge rivalry game.
"Everything was working for him," Timmons said of Sullivan's April 26 performance. "He was throwing his breaking ball for a strike and throwing it early in (strike) counts. Once you establish you can throw a breaking ball for a strike at any time, you have the hitter guessing the entire game."
The Lions didn't commit an error defensively, either.
The Indians had runners on first and second, trailing 3-1 in the top of the seventh. But Scappoose senior Terrence Lewis was robbed of a base hit on an incredible stretch and scoop by St. Helens first baseman Olson of a ball in the dirt to end the game.
The runner on second base already had rounded third and was on his way home. If Olson doesn't make an outstanding backhanded pick of that ball out of the dirt, Scappoose scores at least one run and maybe two, with Lewis making his way to second.
"That was one of the best plays I've seen all year," Timmons said. "Olson has been a vacuum for us over there. He's very solid defensively with the glove. We tell our infielders, 'If you're going to miss (with a throw), miss low.' If you give Olson a chance, he'll get it and help you out."
Scappoose took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning on an RBI groundout by Gavin Larson.
Sullivan tied the game with an RBI single in the bottom of the second.
St. Helens' Chris Beatty led off the bottom of the third with a single, and Garrett Harris got on with a bunt single. Beatty moved to third on a wild pitch and later gave St. Helens the lead for good on Allen's groundout.
Hald added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly to left field that made the score 3-1.
"That was a perfect example of team offense," Timmons said. "Beatty and Allen have been pretty lights-out for us. And Olson has been swinging a good bat, too."
In Wednesday's 11-6 win at Milwaukie, Beaty, Harris and Edwards all had three hits, and Hora and Cody McKay both went 2 for 4. Harris tripled, and Allen and Edwards each had a double.
Sullivan got that victory, tossing 6.1 innings before Edwards took the mound to strike out both batters he faced.
After Friday's final clash with Milwaukie, the Lions will finish the regular season with three games against La Salle Prep (May 5-10) and three versus Hillsboro (May 14-17).
La Salle Prep is third in the NWOC at 9-3. Hillsboro is fourth at 5-6.
The top four finishers get an automatic berth in the Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs.
As Timmons sees it, if the Lions can finish around .500 in league play, they have a good chance of advancing to the postseason.
"Our confidence is up, and we're hoping to keep it rolling and put a little of a winning streak together here," Timmons said. "Our goal every year is to make the playoffs.
"With such a young team, if they can get in there and get that experience, I think it's going to be humongous for us. We just need to keep swinging the bats well and make all of our outs productive and play solid defense."