North Marion's Grant Henry felt he'd let the Huskies down after his throwing error opened the door for Gladstone to score the tying run in the seventh inning.
Henry, however, picked the team back up in the eighth.
Henry drove in the go-ahead run with a one-out double and then took to the mound for his third inning of relief and retired the Gladiators in order, leading the top-ranked Huskies to a 9-8 Tri-Valley Conference road win — the last significant hurdle standing between North Marion and the league championship.
"This win was huge, man," Henry said. "Gladstone is probably the best team we're going to see all year, so credit to them. But this was our goal, the thing we talk about every day — we want to win a league championship.
"So, check that one off the list."
For the Gladiators, the loss came as a heartbreaker for the defending Class 4A state champions, who wouldn't mind seeing the Huskies one more time in the playoffs, maybe even in the final.
"If I'm going to lose on Senior Night, I might as well lose to the No. 1 team in the state in eight innings, so I'll take that," Gladstone second baseman Austin Conner said. "We just couldn't really execute offensively in some situations like bases loaded, one out in the seventh, and we only get one run off of that.
"We expect more than that and we need more than that, especially in a game like this."
North Marion broke a 7-7 tie in the top of the seventh inning when Noah Wierstra led off with a single against Gladstone reliever Wesley Haverland, moved to second on Isaac Hansen's sacrifice bunt, and scored when Evan Holman drove a 2-2 pitch over the right fielder's head for a double.
In the bottom half of the inning, Henry took the mound for his second inning of relief, which started with Gladstone's J.P. Peterson reaching safely on an infield single.
Next, Jackson Simmons struck out, pinch-hitter Dawson Wick singled to right, a wild pitch with pinch-hitter Brady Rather at the plate moved both runners into scoring position, and then Rather was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Ben Hill, the Gladiators' No. 9 hitter, then hit a chopper toward the mound that Henry fielded cleanly, but threw the ball over the catcher's head, allowing Peterson to score the tying run.
"I got the ball and I heard my coaches yelling, 'Four! Four! Four!'" Henry said of the play at home plate. "I was already thinking 'four' in my head, but I think I got a little overwhelmed and panicked a little bit. In that case, I'm a senior and I should stay composed at all times, but ..."
Henry minimized the damage by striking out Conner, one of the most potent bats in the Gladstone lineup, and then getting Matthew Lehrbach to ground into an inning-ending fielder's choice to shortstop.
In the eighth, Gladstone's Mateo Burgos relieved Haverland and issued a leadoff walk to Nic Iliyn. Jared Hauser then tried to bunt Iliyn into scoring position, but popped out to the catcher.
Next up was Henry, who looked at a pitch out of the strike zone, then fouled one off, then looked at another one off the plate as Iliyn stole second.
"I knew at 2-1, it was a good hitter's count and that I was probably going to get a fastball," Henry said. "Fortunately, I got a good one."
Henry drove the next pitch into the gap in right-center and it bounced all the way to the fence, allowing Iliyn to score easily.
"I knew when I hit it that it was over the outfielder's head," Henry said. "I didn't know how far in the gap it was. I just had to start running, but I knew I'd hit it pretty well."
The Gladiators had their Nos. 3, 4, and 5 hitters up in the eighth, but Henry shut them down as he retired Matthew Kuhn and Jake Gehrke on grounders to shortstop and then struck out Peterson to end the game.
"Great game," Huskies coach Randy Brack said. "These kids expected to win and they were so positive the whole game. They stayed after really good at-bats, they made plays when they had to make plays, and they really played for each other.
"We've played pretty much everybody that's supposed to be pretty good in the state and Gladstone is the best team we've seen at our level, the very best team, and the three scores prove it."
North Marion won the opener 1-0 at North Marion on April 22, and then Gladstone turned around the next day and won 3-2 at Gladstone, setting the stage for Tuesday's rubber game.
It started as a slugfest with the Huskies scoring three runs in the first inning, but the Gladiators turned around and scored five in the first.
Then in the fourth, North Marion scored four runs to take a 7-5 lead, but Gladstone countered with two to keep the game tied.
The Huskies took the lead in the seventh when Noah Wierstra led off with a single, went to second on Isaac Hansen's sacrifice bunt, and scored on Evan Holman's double to right, but again saw the lead disappear in the bottom half of the inning.
"It could have been our ball game, easily," Gladstone coach Casey Webster said. "In the bottom of the seventh, bases loaded and one of the best hitters up and … it's just, that's baseball. That happens.
"I'm pretty proud of the way our kids played. It's disappointing knowing that we were so close and we had it, but what do you do. You've got to pick up the pieces and you've got to play on Thursday and then get ready for the state playoffs."
On Thursday, North Marion won 24-3 over Corbett, while Gladstone rolled to a 13-5 win at Molalla to close out the regular season, making the final Tri-Valley standings official — the Huskies finishing with a 14-1 record, Gladstone second at 13-2, and Estacada a distant third at 8-7.
"To come to Gladstone and win, that's really something, especially against a quality team like that," Brack said. "And to do it the way we did it after the first two games we played, that was not what I expected.
"I thought maybe it would be another one-run game, maybe 4-3 or something like that, but to have both teams swing the bats the way they did today, I'm pretty impressed."
After spending much of the season ranked atop the 4A polls, the Huskies dropped to No. 3 over the weekend behind No. 1 Banks (21-3, 12-0 Cowapa) and No. 2 Henley (21-3, 13-2 Skyline), both of which North Marion beat in non-league play in March.
The ranking polls were scheduled to freeze Monday night, cementing the team's place in the state playoff bracket. North Marion will await the results of the play-in contests this week, and will host a team to be determined on May 22.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.