Baseball: North Marion sweeps Stayton to stay in conference title hunt
It all comes down to the final week of the regular season for the North Marion baseball team.
The No. 2 Huskies recovered from their first back-to-back losses of the season by sweeping the Stayton Eagles in a three-game series last week, staying in the hunt for the program's first conference title in four years.
North Marion (17-4, 7-2 Oregon West Conference) needed the wins to keep within striking distance of the Philomath Warriors (13-7, 9-3 OWC), who wrapped up their conference schedule last week with a three-game sweep of their own over the Cascade Cougars.
The Huskies opened the week with a pair of decisive victories over the last-place Eagles (3-15, 0-9 OWC), beating Stayton 12-1 at home on April 30 and following with an 11-0 road win the next day. North Marion beat up on the Eagles thanks to big performances on the mound from starting pitchers Griffin Henry and Trevor Ensign combined with clutch hitting up and down the lineup.
It was the first time the Huskies have scored double digit runs in consecutive games this season, as North Marion has struggled to find an offense on par with its defense that has yielded the fewest runs in the state (49) at the 4A level.
Henry continued to pitch at an all-state level in the series-opening victory, striking out nine batters while giving up just two hits and one earned run in four innings. The Huskies scored in every inning, dropping five runs on the Eagles in the second and fourth innings to take a 12-1 lead that closer Ryan Olson put away by pitching a perfect fifth inning.
Isaac Hansen led the team on offense, going 2-for-3 with a run scored and three RBIs. Every member of the starting lineup logged at least one hit, four of which scored two runs each.
The Huskies needed an extra inning to get the job done on May 1, but the result was largely the same. Ensign struck out five and gave up two hits in five scoreless innings, while Milo Bilyeu came in to pitch a scoreless sixth to preserve the win.
Andy Schmitz took the lead on offense, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs, while Bryce Lemon led the team with three runs scored. Once again, the Huskies were strong across the board at the plate, with all but one starter registering a hit.
The final game of the series was too close for comfort, as the Huskies held off a late-game rally by the Eagles to squeeze out a 3-2 victory on Thursday.
North Marion once again got another strong performance on the pitcher's mound, this time from starter Brady Hansen, but the Huskies were largely ineffective on offense, scoring all three of their runs in the third inning.
The Eagles got one back in the top of the fifth inning after leadoff batter Jared Mitchell reached base on a bunt. After stealing second, Mitchell advanced to third on a balk and scored on a passed ball to make it a 3-1 game.
The Huskies turned to reliever Ryan Olson in the sixth inning, who got out of a bases-loaded jam, but only managed to give up one run to preserve the team's tenuous lead. After another scoreless inning in the bottom of the frame, Grant Henry came in to pitch a perfect seventh inning for the save.
Hansen finished the game with six strikeouts and two hits allowed in five innings. Grant Henry was 2-for-3 on offense with a double and two RBIs.
The victories kept North Marion a game and a half behind the Philomath Warriors, who have won three of the past four Oregon West titles. The Huskies own the tie-breaker over the Warriors after taking two-of-three games against Philomath in April.
With Philomath's league schedule wrapped up, North Marion needs only to take care of business against the Cascade Cougars (10-10, 5-4 OWC) in the final week of the regular season to win its first conference championship since joining the Oregon West in 2015. North Marion's last league title came in 2014 when the Huskies split the Tri-Valley Conference title in an improbable four-way tie between Estacada, Gladstone and La Salle after all four programs went 10-5.
North Marion's last outright league title came the year before when the Huskies went 14-1 in the Tri-Valley en route to a trip to the state semifinals.
The Huskies need to win two of three games against the Cougars this week to finish tied with the Warriors for the Oregon West title. North Marion will win the conference outright if they take at least all three games from Cascade.
The two teams were schedule to play at Cascade on Monday, followed by a home game at North Marion on Tuesday.
The series wraps up on Thursday at Cascade High School in Turner.