By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

End of the road

Rockne Roll/News-Register##McMinnville catcher Wyatt Smith looks at the scoreboard during the bottom of the seventh inning of the Grizzlies’ OSAA Class 6A baseball state quarterfinal game Friday evening against Jesuit at Sprunk Stadium in Portland.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##McMinnville catcher Wyatt Smith looks at the scoreboard during the bottom of the seventh inning of the Grizzlies’ OSAA Class 6A baseball state quarterfinal game Friday evening against Jesuit at Sprunk Stadium in Portland.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Grizzlies third baseman Cedric Agcaoili-Ostrom dives for a ground ball against the Crusaders.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Grizzlies third baseman Cedric Agcaoili-Ostrom dives for a ground ball against the Crusaders.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##McMinnville’s Jesse Ehrhart drops down a bunt in the Grizzlies’ OSAA Class 6A baseball state quarterfinal game against the Jesuit Crusaders at Sprunk Stadium in Portland on Friday, May 27.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##McMinnville’s Jesse Ehrhart drops down a bunt in the Grizzlies’ OSAA Class 6A baseball state quarterfinal game against the Jesuit Crusaders at Sprunk Stadium in Portland on Friday, May 27.

PORTLAND – At the conclusion of an interview on the field at Jesuit High School’s Sprunk Stadium, McMinnville head baseball coach Jordan Harlow walked into the visiting dugout and found Sam Swenson.
Swenson had endured one of the most difficult pitching outings of his life in what will be his final high school game. He packed his bags in silence before Harlow tapped him on the shoulder. The two embraced.
“You’re going to do great things,” Harlow told the senior.
It was, Harlow had emphasized, not Swenson’s fault that McMinnville bowed out in the quarterfinals of the OSAA Class 6A baseball state playoffs, 7-1, to the host Crusaders. It was a team effort. And one big inning tends to overshadow a complete game.
“We let guys get on base, but for the most part, until you look at that bottom of the sixth, we did a great job challenging guys in tough situations,” Harlow said. “Kade (Mechals) got some big outs when he needed it. Even Sam challenged guys and did a good job.”
The Grizzlies and the Crusaders (23-7) had combined to allow two runs in their first- and second-round games, so a pitcher’s duel was a natural expectation. Mechals, recently named pitcher of the year in the Class 6A Greater Valley Conference, maintained his impressive form. His curveball broke, his changeup locked knees, and Jesuit hitters had to work Mechals deep into counts to gain traction. He finished the contest with four hits allowed and four strikeouts in five innings pitched.
Mechals’ vice on the sunny Friday evening was the walk. He issued free passes to four batters; in the third inning, he walked one Crusader and hit another with a pitch after obtaining two outs. Jesuit infielder Matt Young hit a 1-2 pitch past Swenson’s outstretched glove for an RBI single. The next batter, Nolan McCarthy, launched a fly ball into deep center field.
McMinnville junior Tyler Sitton, manning the middle third of Sprunk Stadium’s turf outfield, backpedaled and reached for McCarthy’s fly ball. It bounced off the webbing of Sitton’s glove and onto the turf, an RBI single for McCarthy and the Crusaders.
“People are going to look at that one ball that was a tough ball for him to catch, going back on that, I don’t look at that. He made a lot of great plays today,” Harlow said of Sitton, who recorded five outs on caught fly balls during the game. “Really good effort from him. He made some great catches on some balls that were put in the gap. He did a great job.”
The Grizzlies responded to the 2-0 deficit with small ball. Wyatt Smith drew a leadoff walk in the third inning, advanced to second base on a Sitton sacrifice bunt and moved to third on a Gio Esparza single. (Esparza, who had a .240 batting average entering the game but batted .400 in McMinnville’s last 11 games, went 2-for-3 against Jesuit.) Brad Hessel walked to load the bases, chasing Crusaders starting pitcher Jack Gordon (3 1/3 innings, four hits allowed, three strikeouts) from the game.
Cedric Agcaoili-Ostrom’s deep sacrifice fly to left field was enough to bring Smith home, but it ended up being all the Grizzlies could muster. In five of McMinnville’s seven innings at bat, at least one runner was left on base, with nine total stranded.
“I don’t really know what to say, I’ll be honest with you,” Harlow said. “We swung it really well today. We bought into an approach yesterday at practice. We knew what we wanted to do at the plate and the guys did that. I told them, offensively, I wouldn’t ask for anything more except for a ball to drop.”
Jesuit reliever Lane Richmond retired all eight batters he faced as Mechals kept the Crusaders’ hitters in check. Swenson relieved Mechals to begin the sixth inning and struck out outfielder Ian Cooney to open the home half. He later induced a second out on a Griffin Brandt fielder’s choice.
Swenson struggled with location, throwing 17 balls among his 36 pitches for the inning. Jesuit senior Matt Kollas tagged a 1-0 offering for a two-run double. The ball landed in the right-center field gap; Sitton had positioned himself toward left-center field and was unable to track down the ball in the air.
“We had the scouting report. The guy did a good job,” Harlow said. “That’s a tough ball to run down. With two outs, I think he was in a good spot to be.”
Harlow called for an intentional walk on Young to load the bases, and Swenson walked McCarthy to bring in a third run. Crusaders catcher Brian Sheerin completed the big inning with a two-run single before Cooney flew out.
Jesse Ehrhart singled and Mechals (2-for-3) walked with two outs before Swenson flew out to left field to end the game. Salt in the wound.
“We fought till the end,” Harlow said. “Didn’t quite make it happen.”
Yet what did happen remains reason for optimism. McMinnville entered the 2016 season having graduated top pitchers David Brosius and Riley McAnally from its 2015 state semifinal team; its entire starting outfield, including Brosius, is now playing college baseball. While seven seniors graduate off the 2016 team, they did not have the collective varsity experience of their predecessors.
McMinnville finished second in the GVC (18-12, 11-5 GVC) and received the No. 22 seed in the 6A state playoffs. Two rounds of games later, McMinnville was the lowest seed standing, with a March 28 victory over the No. 3-seeded Crusaders adding background information to Friday’s quarterfinal.
“This was a special group. I couldn’t be more proud of this group doing what they did,” Harlow said. “They’re all great kids, first and foremost, that I’m so proud of and I’m very privileged to have coached. Their work ethic has been unbelievable.
“That’s what this group did: they got hot at the right time. We certainly had our ups and downs. And that’s just a kudos to them and how tough they are mentally. That’s something we preach in the program, and they didn’t care. They didn’t buy into the records or any of that stuff.
“They came out with great mentalities really in all three of these games. In three games, we had to one tough inning. That’s all it comes down to.”

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS