The South Salem baseball team started fast in its Class 6A state quarterfinal against West Linn on Friday, May 24.
The Lions came back strong in the middle of their game at Salem's Gilmore Field.
The Saxons pushed back ahead in the fifth inning, then saw the Lions score twice in the seventh, load the bases and send their best player to the plate.
But that's where West Linn's stellar 2019 season came to an end.
South Salem's Elijah Enomoto-Haole came on in relief to get a bases-loaded, full-count strikeout to end the contest and preserve the Saxons' 7-6 victory.
"The season ending on a loss is a tough pill to swallow, especially in a close game like that," said West Linn senior catcher J.J. Hoover, who went 2 for 4 at the plate and scored once. "(But) what hurts more to me is never putting on the West Linn uniform and playing with this group of guys ever again."
"Everybody on the roster battled all game for each other and I'm proud of us for that," said Lion senior designated hitter Zach Bell, who also went 2 for 4 and scored once. "It's been a long journey with my brothers and I hate that it's over. We've made memories that'll last a lifetime together."
"The South Salem game showed how much heart we had as a team," added West Linn senior pitcher J.K. Kelly, who threw seven innings, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits and two walks while striking out seven; he also went 1 for 4 at the plate with a grand slam home run and four RBIs. "We got down early and just kept battling our way back. Not once did we think we were out of that game."
The loss snapped No. 5 West Linn's three-game winning streak and ended their season with a 19-10 overall record after winning the Three Rivers League for a third straight time. Mountain Valley Conference champion South Salem — the No. 4 seed — then lost to Jesuit 3-2 in Tuesday's state semifinals and finished its year at 23-6.
After a scoreless West Linn first — Hoover and Bell both singled with two outs but did not score — the Saxons grabbed a 3-0 edge in their half of the first. Kelly set down the first two Saxon batters he faced, then saw Danny Alvarado double, Kaiden Doten single and Greyson Hanowell homer to center field.
But Kelly settled down after that and shut out the Saxons for the next three innings, allowing just two baserunners along the way and giving his team's offense a chance to get started.
And that's just what the Lions did in the top of the fourth. Garrett Wiancko got on base with one out when he was hit by a Ryan Brown pitch, Chase Bartley followed with a walk, and with two outs, Caden Parker walked to load the bases and Kelly followed with a line-drive home run to left field that gave the Lions a 4-3 lead.
While neither team scored in their next at-bats, South Salem took control in the bottom of the fifth. Sean Alvarado kicked things off with a double and Brown then lined a homer over the left field fence that gave the Saxons a 5-4 edge.
But South Salem wasn't done yet. Danny Alvarado followed with a walk off Kelly and Doten then added his team's third homer — another shot to left — that extended the Saxons' lead to 7-4.
The Lions stranded two runners in the top of the sixth, but just kept grinding and got back into the game in the seventh. There, facing reliever Ricky Alvarado, Hoover led off with a single, took second on an error and scored when Bell doubled to center.
Alvarado got the next two batters on strikeouts, but then hit Chase Bartley, saw Caleb Franzen single to load the bases and walked Caden Parker to force home Bell and cut the South Salem lead to 7-6.
But then, with Enomoto-Haole on in relief of Alvarado and Kelly at the plate, Kelly ran the count to 3-2 before Enomoto-Haole ended the contest with a strikeout.
"I think a couple bounces a different way would have changed that whole game for us, but that's baseball. Not everything is going to go your way," Kelly said.
"Friday's game didn't end the way we wanted to, but we battled the whole game and played for each other and I'm very proud of our team," Hoover said. "This team was truly special and I will never forget the guys."