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On May 23, 2005, the Canby Cougar baseball team downed the South Eugene Axemen with a dominant 7-0 victory in the first round of the OSAA 4A playoffs. Though the Cougs would fall to Summit two days later, it still marked a solid season for the program.
It would be nearly two decades before Canby would win another playoff game. Despite producing Division I talent — such as University of Oregon’s Nico Tellache and new University of Hawaii member Sean Wiese — the Cougars couldn’t break through that first-round barrier. Until this year.
Exactly 17 years later — on May 23, 2022 — the Canby Cougar baseball team ended that streak with a 2-1 victory over the visiting Bend Lava Bears.
It was the first home playoff game for head coach J.J. Stolsig’s squad since 2008, that game a 7-1 loss to Beaverton near the start of the Cougars’ second-round drought, and the fans showed up accordingly, with strings of Cougar faithful packing the stands and lining the fences for the thriller.
(The perfect spring temperatures and sunshine no doubt did little to hurt attendance.)
Joe Brauckmiller started on the mound for Canby (16-12, 11-7 TRL) with five ground-outs and a pop fly. The senior pitcher ensured the day would not be easy for the Lava Bears (11-15, 8-4 Mountain Valley) from the very start, not allowing a single baserunner in the first two innings.
Bend finally managed a runner on base in the third inning — and quickly converted. After Zakeri Hansen reached first base via error, he advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt.
A well-hit single from Jackson Bishop — the first hit of the day for Bend — pushed Hansen even further, and Nate Koehler drove him home with a sac fly to give the visitors a 1-0 lead despite having registered only two baserunners so far.
After a quiet opening two innings, the Cougs would not waste time getting back into the game. Brauckmiller proved pitching wasn’t his only forte, belting a single to left field to open the inning.
After he advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Theo Netter, senior Bryce Oliver picked up his second hit of the day with an electrifying RBI double to bring his teammate home and tie the game, 1-1.
From there, Brauckmiller returned to the mound — and locked things down, allowing only a single baserunner over the next four innings — and making that one well-hit single from Jackson Bishop in the third a distant memory. It would prove to be the only hit of the day for the Lava Bears.
“He was really competitive and threw a lot of strikes,” Stolsig said of his star hurler. “And that’s what he’s done all year. He’s been really good all year every time he goes out there.”
With Brauckmiller dealing nothing but strikes, all that was left for Canby was to get runners home. And though the Cougars, too, failed to record a hit in the final six innings, that didn’t mean they were hapless offensively.
When Mikey Gibson reached base on an error in the fifth, it initially didn’t look too promising. With the Cougar bats still quiet, he had a lot of work to do.
He got things off to a good start with a thrilling steal of second base. Then, he advanced to third — ensuring he would be in the right place at the right time. His scamper to the promised land came not on a hit, but a wild pitch, and it gave the Cougars a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish.
While the Cougs have, at times, struggled to generate offense, they have proven crafty in the business of manufacturing runs and in grinding out wins in low-scoring contests. Including Monday, Canby is 9-0 in games in which they have held opponents to 1 run or fewer.
Thanks to excellent pitching from Brauckmiller and fielding from the rest of the defense, Canby earned their first playoff win in 17 years in a game with a fitting ending: a called strike three looking that sent jubilant Cougars pouring out of the dugout and storming across the field.
Cougar Country on Twitter: “COUGARS WIN! COUGARS WIN!Final Baseball Score: Canby 2, Bend 1 #opreps pic.twitter.com/PpA1lSyd8U / Twitter”
COUGARS WIN! COUGARS WIN!Final Baseball Score: Canby 2, Bend 1 #opreps pic.twitter.com/PpA1lSyd8U
Stolsig, who picked up his first career playoff win in 10 seasons as head coach, was all smiles after the game, noting that the success of the baseball program was indicative of changing tides at Canby High School.
“It’s fun,” Stolsig said. “The whole culture of the school: Football had a good year, basketball, wrestling, softball, and track and field, too. It’s just a good time to be a Coug.”
But Stolsig and his squad will have precious little time to reflect on their postseason victory. On Wednesday, they face a looming giant in No. 3 South Medford (23-3, 12-3 Southwest Conference), which is fresh off of an 8-1 victory over Lincoln — and has not lost a game since mid-April.
“It’s just like every game,” Stolsig said. “We’ll go out and practice, fine-tune, and get ready to compete to our best ability on Wednesday.”
The two teams did not meet in the regular season, but the Panthers traveled to Bend for their first game of the season, a non-league match they won 8-2.
The Cougars will look to make more history in their tilt with the Southwest Conference champions in Medford Wednesday, with a start time still TBD. For tickets, visit osaa.org/tickets.
Lead photo courtesy Sarah Oliver.
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