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Led by a tight-knit cadre of seniors who have been friends and teammates for many years, the Canby Cougars baseball team (17-12, 11-7 Three Rivers League) has played all season under the firm belief that this was their year — regardless of whether anyone outside the Canby bubble believed them.
They proved that in a big way on Wednesday, taking down the third-seeded, perennial 6A powerhouse South Medford Panthers (23-4, 12-3 Southwest Conference) on their home field in a commanding performance that was not as close as its final score — 4-2 — might suggest.
“Man, the kids competed their tails off yesterday,” head coach J.J. Stolsig told the Current Thursday morning. “Nobody flinched. Guys played with confidence. We hit the ball well and had some great at-bats.”
South Medford’s vaunted offense, which has averaged nearly eight runs over the past 14 games — all victories — was given fits all day by Canby’s superb pitching and tireless fielding, as the Southwest Conference champions struggled to get anything going at Harry & David Field.
The Panthers managed seven hits against starting hurler Kellan Oakes but were unable to turn them into runs. Oakes had a masterful outing, striking out nine and walking in three in six and 2/3 innings.
“Kellan was great on the mound,” Stolsig said. “This group just continues to get better and work at it. This group loves to compete. We believe when you truly love your teammates and root for people to have success, good things happen.”
Canby drew first blood in the third, going up 2-0 after a pair of two-out RBI singles by Clayton Langdale and Oakes, who both went 2-for-4 on the day. It was a lead they would never relinquish.
The Cougs would find themselves in trouble, however, in the seventh and final frame, when relief pitcher Alex Evans gave up a single and two walks to load the bases for Kaleb Long, one of the Panthers’ most potent sluggers.
Evans kept the ball away from Long and — with a full count — got the sophomore to swing and miss on yet another outside pitch to end the game and send jubilant Cougars streaming into the infield.
For Canby, it marks their first trip to the state baseball quarterfinals in 25 years, the last visit being in 1997 when the Cougs beat North Bend and Tigard in the first and second rounds before losing to eventual 4A champs Madison.
While the Cougs have struggled with consistency and offense at points in the season, they certainly seem to be putting it all together at just the right time.
“The guys don’t want it to end,” Stolsig said. “They enjoy being around each other, and I enjoy showing up every day to be around this group.”
They’ll try to keep their Cinderella story — and a six-game win streak — going Friday as they face No. 6 Mountainside (22-6, 14-4 Metro League) on the road. First pitch is at 5 p.m. For tickets, visit osaa.org/tickets.
Canby’s was far from the only upset of the day, as No. 18 Lake Oswego on Wednesday took down No. 2 Jesuit, a shocking result for one of the early favorites to win the state title.
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