Baseball: Sixth-inning rally propels Kennedy past Culver, 7-4
With 10 underclassmen on the team that lost two all-state players to graduation a year ago, the No. 5 Kennedy baseball team wasn't supposed to be this good, at least not yet.
And yet here they are — league champions and back in the quarterfinals after rallying from three runs down to defeat the Culver Bulldogs 7-4 on Wednesday at home in the first round of the 2018 2A/1A State Playoffs.
"The young guys have surprised me for sure. Not only the young guys, but our three seniors have all been pretty good," Kennedy head coach Kevin Moffatt said, referring to John Valladares, Daniel Moreno and Jorge Espinoza. "I think a lot falls with those guys too, because they've definitely held their weight."
Up and down the roster Kennedy (22-4, 13-1 Special District 2) needed every bat in their win over Culver (10-10, 6-3 Special District 6) on Wednesday. The two teams combined for a defensive showcase through the first five innings before starting pitchers Brady Traeger for the Trojans and Cole Little of the Bulldogs began to wear out late in the game.
Culver broke open a 1-1 game with a two-run home run off Traeger in the top of the sixth, forcing Moffatt to turn to Moreno to finish off the game. The Bulldogs added one more run before the Trojans stopped the run and went into the bottom of the inning down 4-1.
This time it was Kennedy's turn.
A couple hit batters, an error, a pair of walks, a base hit — however the Trojans could get on base, they found a way. By the end of the inning, they had driven Little out of the game and entered the final frame up 7-4.
"Credit to our guys, they hung in there and battled really well," Moffatt said. "We hung in there and put the ball in play. We got a little bit lucky probably, but I think a lot of that has to do with our kids never giving up."
As a reward for their efforts, the Trojans return to the quarterfinals for the sixth time in the past eight seasons, where they will face an Oakland team (19-9, 15-3 Special District 3) that is deceptively better than their No. 13 ranking coming into the state playoffs, according to Moffatt.
"That 13 is way off base," Moffatt said. "Most people that I've talked to around the state probably think they're the fourth best team behind Knappa, Reedsport and Pilot Rock. I know they're talented and athletic."
Of Oakland's nine losses this season, eight have come against league champions. The Oakers defeated No. 4 Umpqua Valley Christian (21-8, 13-0 Special District 4) 8-6 on Wednesday to earn their second straight quarterfinal berth.
"I don't even think it was an upset, they're just that good," Moffatt said. "The good thing about it is that we get to play at home in front of a home crowd. We'll have our hands full. We'll have to be as good or better than we were on Wednesday."
A win over Oakland would put Kennedy in the semifinals for the first time since the team's 2012 state championship season, likely against the No. 1 Knappa Loggers (21-0, 12-0 Special District 1) on the other side of the bracket.
Knappa has been a buzzsaw against every team this season, boasting seven shutouts and the best defense in the state at any level, having given up just 23 runs this season. One of those shutouts came 10-0 against the Trojans in the last game of the regular season for both teams, and Moffatt would be eager to get another shot at the team.
"I'd be excited just because we get to play another game with these guys," Moffatt said. "We'd definitely be a huge underdog, but if there's a sport it can happen in, baseball is the one, because the ball takes funny bounces."
Not that the Trojans have their eyes anywhere but Oakland today.
"We'll have our hands full tonight," he said. "They got a good group of seniors and a lot of pitching depth."