KEIZER — If you get out of your head and play with your heart, eventually you’re going to make it through.
Those were the words of advice St. Mary’s baseball coach Sean Gallagher gave his team prior to Friday’s Class 3A state championship — echoing sentiments his wife shared before he left Medford — and for the most part that’s what the Crusaders did here at Volcanoes Stadium.
Twice rallying from deficits against sixth-seeded Glide, No. 4 St. Mary’s capped its breakthrough season by scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to earn a 5-3 victory for the school’s first state title in 35 years.
“It feels amazing right now,” said St. Mary’s senior left fielder Nathaniel Savage amid the postgame celebration. “For most of these guys, we’ve been working together for six years now and our goal was always the state championship. I’m sure that’s the case for every team but we’ve all been through so much together that this victory means the world to us. We’re just so elated to finally get this done.”
Savage had his fingerprints all over the championship game for St. Mary’s (26-4), from stumbling home to score his team’s first run to plating the go-ahead run in a clutch sixth-inning rally by the Crusaders. He finished 2-for-3 with one run and one RBI.
“He had the craziest catch at Stanfield/Echo that stopped the momentum and I think that’s what lifted him today,” said Gallagher, referring to Savage’s big effort in Tuesday’s 3-2 road win over the No. 1 seed. “I think he just said, wow, I can do this. He’s just phenomenal. He works hard every day and struggled all season with the bat (hitting .186) but, you know, he had his day today.”
As did all the Crusaders, who got a steady performance for six innings on the mound by Travis Danielson before giving way to fellow senior Joe Johnson for a scoreless seventh inning. Danielson allowed three runs (one earned) with six hits and four strikeouts and the only thing keeping Johnson from a perfect final frame was a hit batter with one out.
It came down to Danielson or junior Brandon Letendre to start against Glide (22-7) and Gallagher didn’t flinch in calling Danielson’s number even though he had lost earlier in the year to the Wildcats while Letendre had beaten Glide.
“I think anyone looking from the outside would’ve said you’ve got a 12-0 winner with Brandon Letendre and you go with him,” said Gallagher, “but I watched film and watched film and said we don’t need to throw off-speed stuff — they’re pretty good at hitting off-speed stuff — let’s just pound fastballs and see if we could outhit them, and it worked.”
That theory wasn’t looking good early as Glide got to Danielson for two runs in the first inning on two hits, two errors and one hit batter, but he settled down to keep the Wildcats at bay for the next four innings before running into more trouble in the sixth.
Savage got things moving in the right direction with the Crusaders’ first hit to lead off the third inning, then wound up scoring as a little chaos ensued following an errant pickoff attempt by Glide senior Trevor Mehlhoff.
After the throw got down the right field line, Savage didn’t break stride in trying to go for third base. Right fielder Zach Holland tried to nab Savage at third base but the throw skipped wide of Austin Anderson and Savage, who was already stumbling as he approached third, found enough in reserve to continue on home.
“I was dying,” said Savage of the wild play. “I was out of breath there but after that, I really think that got our energy up and got us going. I was just really excited I was able to help out the team like that today.”
A single by Cobey Aldrich and a Glide error set the stage for Letendre to bring in the tying run with a groundout to give St. Mary’s momentum coming out of the third inning.
In the top of the sixth, Glide’s Ryland Parazoo reached on a single and stole second base to move into scoring position for Cordell Moyers, who was unable to get a sacrifice bunt down but reached out with two strikes and poked a ball over second baseman Calder Pruhliere for an RBI single and 3-2 lead.
Letendre drew a leadoff walk to start St. Mary’s comeback in the bottom half of the inning and, with one out, Pruhliere added a single. Senior Ben Robinson then came through with a game-tying single to left field — he also finished 2-for-3 with one run and one RBI — but Pruhliere was caught in a rundown between second and third for the Crusaders’ second out.
Unfazed by the quick turn of events, senior Bryce Bramscher singled to left-center to set the stage for Savage, who laced a single through the left side to plate a hard-charging Robinson from second base.
“I was nervous going up to bat,” said Savage, “but once I stepped in the box I looked at my coach and I’ve been with him for six years and I just forgot everything and relaxed. Then I just took my time, I saw the ball and I threw my hands and the rest, well you know what the story is.”
Not done yet, senior pinch-hitter Daniel LaFond followed with an RBI single of his own through the right side of the infield for a 5-3 advantage.
“It was a really weird game for us,” said Gallagher. “The top of our lineup usually does the job and those are the guys who were pressing and trying to get it done in one swing. So it fell on the bottom of our order — and you always wonder as a coach how are they going to react when the big guys aren’t carrying it — and they just shined. I told them to just be the best today and they were the best today.”
Making its third appearance in the state championship in four years, Glide still had a chance to match in the seventh but it wasn’t meant to be on this day.
“They’re a good team, we knew they weren’t going to go away,” said Glide head coach Jeff Freeman. “I didn’t think my team was going to rollover either, it was just a great matchup between two good teams. They just got some big hits when they needed them in that bottom of the sixth, and a couple of them weren’t hit very hard they were hit in the right spot.”
“They’re coached well and they’re a championship team,” added Freeman. “I’m happy for them, they deserve everything they got, and our team deserved everything we got this year as well. We had a good run to get here.”
For St. Mary’s, it was the program’s first state title since Dennis Murphy led the team to a 2-1 win over Oakridge in 1982. Murphy also coached the Crusaders to the 1976 finale, where they lost 1-0 to Harrisburg.
A repeat performance won’t be in the cards for Gallagher, however, as this is his last season with the team. He took over a struggling program in 2013 and now will head to West Virginia to coach baseball at Davis and Elkins College.
“It’s my last year at St. Mary’s and it’s a great way to go out,” said the coach. “I’m just grateful for all the boys and all their hard work, they deserve it to go off with a bang.”
Mehlhoff and Leischner; Danielson, Johnson (7) and Arevalos. W — Danielson (4-0). L — Mehlhoff. S — Johnson (2).