Baseball: Wilsonville wins thrilling nine inning first round game over Summit
The season hung on the weight of Camden Crystal's bat.
In a scenario typically reserved for Major League Baseball glory, Crystal stepped up to the plate with the game tied, one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Wildcats' first round playoff game against Summit.
After Crystal fouled off the first pitch, the suicide squeeze — a play the Wildcats have used many times over the years to produce late-game runs — was in order.
And Crystal delivered.
His bunt wasn't ideally placed, but catcher and clean up hitter Dominic Enbody moved briskly from third base, dotted home plate and spread his arms wide — opining that he had reached the base safely.
The umpire agreed, so Enbody pumped his fist and the Wildcats leapt out of the dugout and gesticulated near the mound.
No. 5 Wilsonville had officially defeated No. 12 Summit 7-6 in extra innings Wednesday, May 24.
"What was going through my mind was coach told me, 'You get one pitch, next one put down the squeeze bunt.'So the first one I fouled it off and I knew I had to do my job for the team. They got me in position for it so I just laid it down and let Dom score. I was lucky he was going because that was right back to the pitcher," Crystal said.
The triumphant slide not only marked the end of a gut-wrenching ballgame in which Wilsonville led 5-0 through six innings, lost its lead in the seventh inning and then came back with runs in the seventh and ninth inning. It also sealed the Wildcats' first state quarterfinals spot since 2013.
"There's no better feeling than that. To get that victory with your teammates, it's big. We're moving on," Wilsonville shortstop Trevor Antonson said.
Wilsonville hosted No. 13 Lebanon in the quarterfinals Friday, May 26 — after the Spokesman went to press.
If not the run prevention, Wilsonville's close 1-0 victory over Summit in March foreshadowed the dramatic playoff contest.
In that game, Summit left-handed pitcher Zach Grand gave up just three hits in five innings pitched.
And Grand took the mound again Wednesday. This time, though, Wilsonville hit his pitches. And they hit them hard.
Antonson sparked a first inning charge with an opposite field ground rule double. Then, Carter placed a bunt up the third base line for a single, Gage Gloster drove Antonson home via a ground out and Adam Stevens clubbed the baseball to right field to drive in Carter. Through the first inning, Wilsonville led 2-0.
Kristjen Mertes' sacrifice fly drove in another run to move the score to 3-0 in the second inning.
And instead of needing one hop to vault the baseball over the fence, Antonson smacked it in full flight for a two run home run to give Wilsonville a 5-0 lead and force Summit to switch pitchers.
"I'm just trying to do a job. My main priority is to get to the next guy, get on base so we can keep scoring runs. That's what we did early. We did a good job of it," Antonson said.
Summit replaced Grand on the mound with Dylan Anderman.
"I'm left-handed so they've gotten to see a lot of left-handed (batting practice) this year," Card said. "We struggled with lefties early in the year and we found a way to make those adjustments throughout the year and are starting to hit lefties a little better."
Wilsonville held a 5-0 lead through two innings and that score stood through six innings.
Wilsonville starting pitcher Ben VavRosky allowed multiple Summit base runners in the third inning and fifth inning but got out of a jam twice. In the second instance, with runners on second and third, Enbody tagged out a Summit batter at home plate via a throw from right field and Antonson and Stevens collaborated for a double play. VavRosky had not allowed a run through six innings.
For Wilsonville, it was the best of times.
But then, suddenly, it was the worst of times.
In the top of the seventh inning, with VavRosky still on the mound, Summit executed three consecutive hits to score its first run of the game. Then, with one out and the bases loaded, Sam Waterman blasted a double to left-center field to drive in three runs and cut the Wildcats' lead to 5-4. Soon after, Grant Tobias lifted a double to the left center gap to tie the game 5-5.
After Card replaced VavRosky with Alex Coleman, Drew Steelhammer belted an RBI single to right field. Down by a run, Card turned to Gloster — who he planned to save for Friday's quarterfinals game.
"That was kind of the game plan is we wanted to save Gage as much as we could and make sure we have him for Friday but sometimes you have to go with your gut. ... Ben's been good for us all year and I had 100 percent faith in him. He threw a good game and we thought it was in our best interest to keep the guy in who deserved the win. Once it got to a tie we needed to get him out. He didn't have it in the end but 108 pitches before that he did," Card said.
Gloster blew away Logan Peterson to end the half inning, but the damage had been done. Wilsonville needed to score or its season would end in the first round for the third consecutive year.
"It was a little shaky when that was happening but we came in and our coach was saying 'How bad do we want it?' We bared down and got to the next guy as best we could," Carter said.
On the first at bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, Kristjen Mertes zipped the ball up the first base line and scampered to second base for a double. After Antonson sent him to third via a ground out, Mertes stole home after a wild pitch to tie the game 6-6.
"He (Mertes) was huge. He had a really rough start but he is such a hard-working kid. He's the first guy in the cage and last guy out of the cage every night. He's hitting on weekends. He truly deserved to have a great game and a great playoff run," Card said.
Wilsonville then nearly won the game but Anderman struck out Stevens with two runners on base to end the inning.
So extra innings commenced.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Wilsonville had another walk-off chance.
Andrew Gay walked, Mertes doubled and Antonson was intentionally walked, bringing Carter to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. On a 1-0 count, he drove the ball deep to center field. The ball appeared ready to drop but Summit's Alex Bailey violently swiped his glove to his right and seized the ball in his mitt.
"I was a little upset because I thought it was going to drop but I had faith in our team that we were going to keep going and would get another chance. I had no doubt in my mind," Carter said.
Gloster, though, notched another scoreless inning to set up the Wildcats' game-winning push in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Summit replaced Alderman, who gave up one earned run in 6 2/3 innings pitched, with Steelhammer on the mound.
Enbody walked and Stevens singled to center field before Crystal drove home the game-winning run.
For Card, who has coached Wilsonville since 2014 and reached the state quarterfinals for the first time Wednesday, the game was a highlight in his coaching career.
"That was probably one of my favorite games I've gotten to coach in. It was a lot of fun and it's always nice when you have a little bit extra on the line too," he said.
The Wildcats had lost first round road games in previous years and Card said home field advantage was vital Wednesday because Wilsonville could end the game on its own terms.
"It's about time we got the last at bat. That's the feeling me and the coaches have had. All three games we've been on the road and usually we get things rolling at the end and just run out of innings to hit," Card said. "This year having that home field advantage paid off huge because we got to bat last and that saved us all night."