The competition had never been greater.
The stakes had never been greater.
And the West Linn baseball team had never been more clutch.
The Lions, hosting Bend in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs on Wednesday, May 22, got a no-hitter from senior Caleb Franzen and a walk-off single from senior Garrett Wiancko in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Bend 1-0 at West Linn High School.
"That was a huge win for us, obviously, because it is win or go home," said West Linn senior shortstop J.K. Kelly, "but also because it shows how much heart we truly have."
"I couldn't be more excited about this win," said Franzen, who no-hit the Lava Bears and allowed just one walk and just one baserunner all game while striking out seven. "It's not every day you get to go out and throw a no-hitter with your teammates and friends behind you in the field and in the dugout."
"That was a huge win for us, obviously, because it is win or go home."
— West Linn senior J.K. Kelly
Unfortunately for the Lions, Bend senior starter Cooper Simmonds was nearly as good. In his first six innings' work, Simmonds shut out the Lions on four hits and one walk while striking out five.
But West Linn changed everything in the bottom of the seventh inning. Zach Bell got things started with a leadoff single to center field and next batter Matt Kurtin bunted him over to second base. Then, after Lions' coach Joe Monahan substituted Zach Hoover as a pinch runner for Bell, Wiancko came to the plate.
Wiancko, the Lions' senior left fielder, did not disappoint. Facing a 1-2 delivery from Simmonds, Wiancko hit an opposite-field single to left field, Hoover raced home to score and West Linn walked off with its fifth straight berth in the state quarterfinals.
"Coming up towards the end of the game, I started to get a little nervous, but my team had my back," Franzen said. "I remember after I came in from throwing in the sixth, Garrett Wiancko came up to me and said 'Don't worry. I'll get you a run,' and he did."
"We never gave up throughout the game, even when things didn't look like they were going our way and that is what will carry us through playoffs," Kelly added.
With the win, West Linn's third straight and its sixth in the past seven games, the fifth-ranked Three Rivers League-champion Lions improved to 19-9 overall. No. 12 Bend, meanwhile, saw its four-game winning streak snapped and ended its season at 18-8 after finishing third in the Mountain Valley Conference.
Next up, the Lions will face fourth-ranked Mountain Valley champion South Salem in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Friday at Gilmore Field in Salem. The Saxons (22-5 overall), who beat West Salem 9-5 in nine innings on Wednesday, enter the contest as winners of four straight and eight of their past nine games.
In the win over Bend, Franzen walked Bend's Tysen Scott with two outs in the top of the first inning, then set down the final 18 batters he faced in order, finishing short of a perfect game by just that first-inning walk.
"It felt good out on the mound today," said Franzen, a left-hander. "My fastball and changeup were on for me, and my curveball was there when it needed it to be."
While the Lava Bears got almost nothing accomplished offensively, the Lions bats were quiet most of the day, too.
Kelly walked to open the first, but got doubled off when Cormac Duffy lined back to Simmonds. In the second, the Lions got back-to-back singles from Wiancko and Chase Bartley before Simmonds got Franzen on a fielder's choice.
In the fourth, J.J. Hoover led off with a single, but Simmonds got the next three batters out in order to preserve the scoreless tie.
Finally, after Simmonds set the Lions down in order in the sixth, Bell, Kurtin and Wiancko came through with their seventh-inning heroics to win the game.
For the game, Franzen threw 80 pitches, including 56 strikes and 24 balls.
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