Picture taken by Andy Atkinson for the Mail Tribune.
St. Mary’s rode dominant pitching to clinch its second straight Southern Cascade League baseball title Saturday with 3-1 and 1-0 doubleheader wins over Cascade Christian at St. Mary’s High School.
Joe Johnson stymied the Challengers in the first game, and his double in the first inning of the second game led to the winning run in the nightcap. Brandon Letendre fired a two-hitter in the nightcap for the shutout.
The Crusaders moved to 12-0 in the league and 20-4 overall. Cascade Christian (15-10) wrapped up its SCL season by placing second in the league at 9-3.
The second game featured some highlight defense by both teams. Johnson’s first-inning double accounted for the only run of the contest. Josh Covington came in to pinch run, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on Letendre’s well-executed squeeze bunt.
“I hit a fastball, a little off the end of the bat,” said Johnson. “I was cramping up a bit, so Josh ran for me.”
Letendre outdueled Challenger starter Kyle Reece the rest of the way, leading to his shutout win, by striking out seven and not walking a batter. Reece also was sharp, keeping the Crusaders off the scoreboard after the first, while fanning three and allowing just two hits as well.
The Crusaders turned in some defensive gems that kept Cascade Christian off the bases. In the third inning, right fielder Aliiloa Kaeo-Wailehua caught Luke Smith rounding too far off first base after hitting a single. Kaeo-Wailehua fired to first to catch Smith off the bag for the third out.
St. Mary’s junior Letendre said he felt good on the mound and enjoyed the backing of a solid defense behind him.
“I was able to hit my spots,” he said. “They worked really hard behind me. We have one of the best defenses in the state.”
The Challengers also had their moments in the field, including catcher Gunnar Thompson’s throw to catch Travis Danielson trying to steal for a third out, after Danielson reached first when hit by a pitch.
Danielson was successful stealing second in the sixth inning after smacking a liner to left field for a hit.
After a walk, Letendre retired his older brother Jeff Letendre on a groundout to halt that threat.
“In the second game, we had a lot of 2-0 and 2-1 counts and we were not the best we could have been,” said St. Mary’s coach Sean Gallagher. “Our defense was solid and as good as we have seen all season.”
Cascade Christian Coach David Martin said: “We didn’t hit well, but that was Brandon (Letendre). He was lights out. That was state playoff baseball out there today.”
Gallagher was pleased with his team’s performance in the first game, although lamenting that they left too many runners on base.
Johnson held the Challengers to one unearned run in the first game. He struck out nine and allowed four hits with four walks.
“Joe Johnson is the fiercest competitor on our team, ” Gallagher said. “It was a good job all around.”
Credit Cascade Christian pitching with some of the Crusaders’ problems at the plate in that game.
“My offspeed was working well and kept the hitters off-balance,” said Challengers starter Jeff Letendre, a senior bound for Rogue Community College next year. “Our defense was great.”
Ben Robinson was 2-for- 3 with a home run and two RBIs for St. Mary’s in the opener, and Calder Pruhliere added an RBI.
J. Letendre and Thompson; Johnson and Arevalos. W — Johnson (6-3). L — J. Letendre (5-4). HR — SM: Robinson.
Reece and Thompson; B. Letendre and Arevalos. W — B. Letendre (10-0). L — Reece (4-3). 2B — SM: Johnson.