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Buckaroos win consecutive do-or-die league playoff games to return to state playoffs

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - St. Paul senior Justin Herberger struck out five and gave up five hits and three earned runs in six innings in the Bucks' 6-5 win over the Portland Christian Royals on May 15.The St. Paul baseball team was not ready for its season to be over.

Staging back-to-back victories in two do-or-die league playoff games on May 15, the Buckaroos made an emphatic bid at the state tournament to claim the final berth coming out of the Special District 1.

In the span of four hours, the Buckaroos (15-13, 8-10 SD1) made up for a month of struggling play, scoring three runs in a seventh-inning comeback to beat the Portland Christian Royals 6-5 in the first game before staging a five-run rally in a delayed extra-inning affair against the Nestucca Bobcats to win 10-5.

St. Paul came into the game reeling from a 2-10 record over the previous month of league games, including a combined 1-5 against Portland Christian and Nestucca.

Having been swept by the Royals the week before, the Buckaroos returned the favor in a seventh-inning flourish to knock Portland Christian out of the post season.

Trailing 5-3 entering the final frame, the Bucks began a one-out rally when T.J. Crawford stole second base and scored on a single by fellow junior Reed Overfield to make it a one-run game.

Rawley Koch moved Overfield to second on a single of his own, which led to the game-tying score when Zach Brentano hit a sharp grounder to left field.

Portland Christian turned to reliever Andrew Dailey to attempt to stem the bleeding, but Steven Coppola's grounder was mishandled by the Royals, allowing Koch to score the game-winning run while Brentano and Coppola reached base safely.

Hayden Scott lined into a double play to end the inning, but the damage was done.

In the bottom of the inning, Crawford relieved starting pitcher Herberger, and struggled to find the strike box, walking three batters to load the bases while striking out a fourth before being replaced by Koch.

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - St. Paul junior T.J. Crawford rounds third to score the first of a three-run rally in the seventh inning against Portland Christian on May 15.But the Royals were unable to take advantage of the juiced bags. After a called first strike, Dailey was thrown out attempting to steal home for the second out of the inning. The Portland Christian runners advanced on the play, but Koch caught freshman batter Cayden McLaughlin looking at a third strike to end the inning and deliver the win for St. Paul.

As if that weren't dramatic enough, the Buckaroos held tight in their follow-up game, going the distance with the Nestucca Bobcats. After getting out of a 7th inning jam where the Bobcats loaded the bases with no outs on the board, the St. Paul defense held strong to force extra innings, only for a timing malfunction at the Pacific University stadium caused the lights to go out for a 45-minute delay.

After resuming play, the Buckaroos went off for five runs in the top of the eighth to blow the game open and claim the final state playoff berth coming out of the district.

Despite the loss, the Bobcats (13-12, 10-8) remained in the state playoff picture, earning the lone at-large berth as the highest-ranked team left out of the tournament bracket.

The Buckaroos were scheduled to travel to Santiam to face the Wolverines (15-10, 10-8 SD2) on Monday in the first round of the state playoffs. The winner will advance to the second round to face the No. 3 Kennedy Trojans (25-2, 18-0 SD2) on Wednesday.


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