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All season, the Canby Cougars baseball team (19-12, 11-7 Three Rivers League) has staked its reputation on a low-scoring, grind-it-out, workaday play style, sometimes even registering more runs than hits en route to victory.
But in the semifinals on Tuesday, and with their season and a chance at the OSAA state title on the line, the 14th-seeded Cinderella Cougs flipped that script, blasting the home team Clackamas Cavaliers (26-5, 15-1 Mt. Hood Conference) 14-9 and advancing to Saturday’s finals tilt at Volcanoes Stadium.
Incredibly, the 14 runs the Cougs scored in the semifinals contest was the most they had put on the board in a single game all season. They looked like a completely different team from the one in last week’s quarterfinals victory over Mountainside, in which they locked horns in a 0-0 stalemate until a seventh-inning solo shot by designated hitter Clayton Langdale.
“Yeah, I was talking with one of the assistant coaches, you don’t really expect the boat race, the high-scoring game in the semifinals,” coach J.J. Stolsig told the Current. “But you know, it’s nice to know we can win one of these games. They just hit the heck out of the ball and kept finding ways to fight for each other.”
The Cougs appeared to blow the game wide open with a seven-run outburst in the second frame. The fun started with senior Kellan Oakes, whose hustle around the bags turned a likely double into a close triple.
Logan Robinson drew a walk to get on base in the next at-bat, then advance to scoring position on a groundout by Dominik Pepper. Canby got on the board with an Alex Evans double that drove home Oakes, then added another run with a throwing error.
Ace pitcher Joe Brauckmiller smacked a double in the fourth to score two more and keep the kettle boiling, then returned home a few pitches later on a huge shot by Bryce Oliver that nearly cleared the left-field fence.
Then, senior designated hitter Clayton Langdale, whose seventh-inning solo shot won the game for Canby in the quarterfinals, did it again in the semis, knocking a two-run homer to put the Cougs up 7-0.
But the Cavs answered in the bottom of the fourth, tying the match with seven runs of their own and retiring Brauckmiller after what had been — to that point — three near-perfect innings.
Canby would rally, however, in the very next inning. It started when Cavs pitcher Jackson Jaha hit Gibson to load the bases, then walked a run home with Brauckmiller at the plate.
Senior Theo Netter banged a single to score Carson Guretski and Gibson, and Brauckmiller scampered home on a wild pitch with Langdale back at the plate. Oakes rounded out the six-run bonanza with a two-RBI double that the fielder seemed to lose in the sun.
Clackamas posted two more runs in their fifth inning but couldn’t complete the rally, while Canby tacked on one more with another RBI single from Oakes in the seventh.
After the victory, Stolsig praised his team’s preparation and work ethic.
“It was great,” he said. “I feel really happy for the kids. They’ve earned it, worked their tails off and compete like crazy so I’m really pumped for them. Obviously, we always want to put up runs. Sometimes you have a day like this and you just run with it. The runs feed off each other.”
Despite the rough going in the fourth, Canby’s ace Brauckmiller picked up the win for the Cougs. Oakes closed out the game for Canby, pitching 2.1 innings, allowing no hits, no runs, walking one and striking out three.
The No. 14 Cougars have been the Cinderella story and unanticipated road warriors of the postseason. After beating Bend at home in the first round of the state tournament, Canby has been on the road for three straight wins over higher-ranked opponents.
“They don’t want it to end, you know?” Stolsig said of his squad and — especially the dozen or so seniors who have played together for years and form its core. “These guys are hungry to keep playing, hungry to have another day together.”
Stolsig, who — mere days after registering his first postseason win in 10 years at Canby has now recorded four — acknowledged that he owes much to the senior class that powers this team.
“You always knew it was possible, going back to when they were younger and just watching those guys,” he said. “Not even really the skill set, just the way that they compete and play for each other. I think that can take you a long way, regardless of talent. And we do have good talent.”
Canby faithful lined the left-field fences and as well as several stories of bleachers at the nearby football field due to high attendance, all making the half-hour drive to watch their Cougars pull off yet another upset and make history.
The Class 6A state championship game will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 4, at the Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer. For tickets, visit osaa.org/tickets.
It marks Canby’s first trip to the finals of the state baseball finals in over 60 years, having lost to Seaside in the A-2 division in 1960 by a score of 4-0. The Cougs have never made it to the finals in the state’s highest classification.
The fourth-ranked West Linn Lions (24-7, 13-5 TRL) are much better acquainted with Volcanoes Stadium, having lost in the finals in 2015 and 2017. The Lions won the AAA (then the highest division) state title in 1978 and 1982.
League foes Canby and West Linn faced each other for a three-game series in April, with the Lions taking two (0-3, 5-6) and Canby winning one (2-1).
Known as “Oregon’s Field of Dreams,” Volcanoes Stadium is home to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and has hosted the OSAA 6A state baseball championship since 1998.
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