North Marion goes down swinging in 4-3 loss against Mazama
A half of a step is all that stood between the North Marion baseball team and a berth in the 4A state semifinals. Unfortunately for the Huskies, Mazama's Marcos Ulloa-Ford was just a hair faster.
The Vikings' sophomore starting pitcher made the game-winning play to close the door on North Marion's seventh inning rally, delivering a heartbreaking 4-3 loss in the quarterfinals to close the season at Bob Brack Stadium on May 27.
"Everybody's saying it's a rough way to go, but at the same time, I would rather go that way than just gone up in the seventh inning and struck out three times and walk out of there losing 4-1," North Marion head coach Randy Brack said. "This really had some meaning to it. It took a great play on (Ulloa-Ford's) part to save the game for him."
The 3-seed Huskies had high hopes for a deep playoff run after ripping off a 23-4 record in the regular season, including a perfect 15-0 slate against league opponents and 18 consecutive wins. But it was the 6-seed Vikings (19-8, 13-2 Skyline) who held the upper hand going into the bottom of the seventh inning.
Thanks to a masterful performance from Ulloa-Ford, including a solo home run in the top of the seventh, the Huskies trailed 4-1 in the final frame of play. Outside of a first-inning run scored by North Marion junior Rex DeAngelis on a Mazama throwing error, the Viking hurler scattered four hits and a walk across six innings to silence the Husky offense. But North Marion began to find the cracks in the bottom of the seventh.
Opening the inning at the top of the batting order, senior catcher Evan Holman battled back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk and reach base for the first time in the game. Following a pop out to first base by fellow senior Emilio Estrada, DeAngelis and senior Hunter Hansen hit consecutive singles through the infield to load the bases for Carter Reilly.
The sophomore cracked a sacrifice fly to center field to bring in Holman, and DeAngelis advanced to third on a throwing error. Sophomore Dawson Schrenk kept the rally alive with another single to score DeAngelis and make it a 4-3 game with senior Ethan Wampole coming to the plate. Five pitches later, Wampole had drawn a walk to load the bases, forcing Mazama skipper Pete Whisler to pull Ulloa-Ford and put senior Braden Davis on the mound to face North Marion junior Wil Van Vleck.
With the bases loaded and two outs on the board, Van Vleck nearly won the game on a 2-2 line drive down the left field line that landed foul by just a few feet. Van Vleck sent the next ball streaking up the middle of the field where Ulloa-Ford, who was moved to shortstop for the final play, made a diving nab to keep the ball from going into the outfield. Still on his stomach, Ulloa-Ford flicked the ball to second baseman Jaden Becker to beat Wampole by half a step for the game-ending force out as Schrenk was running toward home for what would have been the winning run.
"I came out of it, like I told the kids after the game, this is very disappointing and I don't expect you to feel any other way, because I do too," Brack said. "Later on after you had time to think about it, you're going to be proud of what you did."
It was an exhilarating finish for a North Marion program that has suffered its share of difficult home playoff losses in recent years. In a return to a full schedule for the first time since 2019, the Huskies put together its third 20-win season that ended in a one-run defeat in front of a home crowd.
In 2018, the Huskies went 22-5 before falling 1-0 to La Grande in the semifinals. A year later, a 23-3 North Marion team was shocked 2-1 in the first round by the 14-seed Astoria Fishermen.
For the game, Hansen pitched the final five innings, striking out eight while giving up a pair of earned runs.
On offense, DeAngelis was 3-for-3 with a double, walk, stolen base and two runs scored. Schrenk went 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Hansen and Cole Boughal tallied hits as well.
The Vikings advance to the state semifinals, where they will face Skyline Conference rival and 2-seed Hidden Valley (26-2, 13-2) which dusted Junction City (18-9, 11-4 Sky-Em) 17-0. On the other side of the bracket, 4-seed La Grande (26-1, 12-0 Greater Oregon) will host 8-seed Philomath (17-9, 13-2 Oregon West), which upset top-ranked Banks 2-1 on Friday.
For full brackets and results from the 2022 baseball state championship tournament, go to osaa.org/bbl.
It was the final contest for North Marion's five seniors — Estrada, Hansen, Wampole, Holman and Deacon Allen, several of whom were experiencing their first normal varsity season after their sophomore season was cancelled and the truncated 2021 season.
"For the seniors, it was a weird four years for them," Brack said.
Hansen, Estrada and Holman joined the varsity program as freshmen, the latter of whom backed up former All-State catcher Grant Henry and caught a few games in relief in 2019.
"Even as a freshman at times when certain pitchers pitched and (Holman) developed into a really good catcher and hitter," Brack said. "He had an outstanding season this year."
Hansen has been a key contributor the past two seasons and kept the Huskies alive against Mazama in a strong performance.
"What Hunter Hansen gave us on the mound was incredible," Brack said. "He was nursing a sore shoulder for the latter half of the season. I was not expecting to get more than a couple innings out of Hunter, and he just gutted it out and gave us five."
Estrada became the Huskies No. 2 hitter after batting ninth as a junior in 2021, a difficult transition to negotiate said Brack.
"He didn't get the same pitches he saw hitting in the ninth spot," Brack said. "He was asked to do a lot of advancing runners and that kind of stuff with bunts and things. He was really outstanding for us."
Wampole learned to play first base on the fly after a thumb injury to expected first baseman DeAngelis forced the 2021 Conference Player of the Year to centerfield.
"At the beginning of the year he struggled," Brack said. "There were a couple of times we had to bench him. He just kept working on it and kept getting better and better.
"At the end of the year, he was playing better than he's ever played."
Allen joined the program for his senior year after last playing as a freshman in 2019.
"I didn't know what to expect," Brack said. "Whenever we called his name, he just did such a great job. IA great teammate. He knew his role. And the whole team was that way. You didn't have to worry about someone being upset because they knew were they fit in the whole scheme of things."
Notes: The 4A quarterfinal game between North Marion and Mazama was the final contest for umpire John Black.
"I've known John for such a long time," Brack said. "He had requested that his last game be at North Marion, because he said he just always loved coming out to the ballpark."
Black's career spans more than 50 years officiating American Legion, high school, college baseball and more. He was named the 2015 OACA and 2006-07 OAOA Official of the Year for baseball.
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