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Sometime between the rain-delayed 6A state finals tilt originally set for Saturday afternoon and the rescheduled match Tuesday evening, the clock struck midnight on No. 14 Canby’s magical Cinderella run through the postseason.
It was a Cougar team of mere mortals who took the field at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer this week to face the juggernaut of the fourth-seeded West Linn Lions (25-7, 13-5 Three Rivers League), their longtime league rivals and a perennial powerhouse playing in their third championship game in eight years.
Canby (19-13, 11-7 TRL) had not tasted a state finals match in several generations, not since the A-2 championship on June 4, 1960, and the experience chasm between the two squads showed from the first pitch.
The Lions dominated the game from start to finish, clobbering Canby to the tune of a 14-0 rout in just four and a half innings of play — and triggering the mercy rule for the first time in a 6A final in 40 years.
And while Canby carried the spirit of that 1960 team, playing nearly 62 years to the day that their predecessors slugged it out at Multnomah Park, West Linn proved it had some history on its side, too.
The last time a state championship game was shortened by the mercy rule was in 1982, when West Linn won its last title, 10-0 over Newberg. The 14-run differential was the most for a 6A final in state history — and the largest in any division since 2010.
And it contradicted the Cougars’ previous experience with West Linn, in which they’d played them much closer in the regular-season series: a 0-3 loss, a 2-1 win and a 5-6 loss.
West Linn piled up its runs over the course of three big innings, posting five in the first after several rare Cougar miscues on defense opened up easy opportunities.
The Lions added three more in the third and six in the fourth to put the game out of reach — all runs coming with two outs on the board.
West Linn totaled 12 hits off Canby pitchers Joe Brauckmiller and Jason Noffsinger — the same duo that had proven deadly in shutting out sixth-ranked Mountainside on its home field two weeks ago.
The atmosphere was electric, with thousands of Canby faithful making the drive to pack stands along the right field and behind the plate. Every pitch. Every second. The crowds were there for it, especially at the start of the game.
Nik Streng on Twitter: “Volcanoes Stadium is packed for this state title game. Pretty much every pitch is met with cheers and/or jeers. What an atmosphere #opreps / Twitter”
Volcanoes Stadium is packed for this state title game. Pretty much every pitch is met with cheers and/or jeers. What an atmosphere #opreps
But in the bottom of the fourth, the outcome became obvious and Cougar players — half of them seniors playing for the final time in a Canby uniform — began hugging in the dugout, tears being quietly shed in preparation for a trophy ceremony that would not be theirs.
As the Lions stormed the field after quickly closing out the Cougs in the top of the fifth to secure the largest win in 6A baseball history, Canby players may have hung their heads a bit.
But the crowd did not care.
Head coach J.J. Stolsig, who just weeks ago had picked up his first playoff win as a coach, talked to the players after the game and refused to let them gloom, saying he would focus on and remember the many positives from his underdog team’s remarkable and unexpected romp through the state’s top baseball talent.
“You brought a lot of hope to a lot of people,” the 10-year Canby head coach told his team. “You united this community. You brought this community together. Did you see them out there tonight? That was because of you.”
Nearly all of the Cougar faithful remained to cheer on their team as they packed and headed for home: the Miracle Cougars that had defeated three straight higher-ranked opponents on the road in No. 3 South Medford, No. 6 Mountainside and No. 7 Clackamas.
While the result was not what they wanted, the team had undoubtedly succeeded in bringing the entire city together and restoring Canby pride — much like the one 62 years prior, many of whose members remained to help build the foundations of what the community would become.
When Bryce Oliver and Kellan Oakes picked up two hits for Canby in the third inning, the crowd roared and rumbled as they pounded their seats. Though the inning proved fruitless, the brief moment of excitement from both the Cougar bench and stands served as a bright spot on the day.
Oliver was named Canby’s player of the game thanks to his efforts, with his and Oakes’ hits the only ones of the day for the Cougs. Clayton Langdale was the other runner to reach base on the day, his in the second inning thanks to an error.
All three players were seniors, part of a strong class of 2022 athletes.
Stolsig became visibly emotional talking with reporters about his 11 seniors after the game — virtually all of whom also played football, basketball and other sports in their Canby careers.
“These guys, 11 seniors, they really care about each other and that’s what allowed us to go on this run, was love,” he said, eyes wet and voice choked with emotion. “These guys have changed the trajectory of the program from their freshman year until now. There’s been a lot of good moments with these guys, and they battled until the end.”
While the Cougs may be in the finals hunt again next season, it will not be the 6A title for which they will be competing. Tuesday was Canby’s final contest in OSAA’s highest classification for at least the next four years, as the school will be playing in the 5A Northwest Conference for most sports and activities next season.
And it was, perhaps, fitting that a playoff run in which Canby repeatedly proved it can produce a squad capable of competing with the best 6A has to offer would end with a definitive statement of how thoroughly one school can be outmatched by another with one and a half times its enrollment.
While Canby may not be back for more next year, they have already left their mark.
The plucky 14th-seed that relied on a different skill every game to survive and advance. A group of seniors pushing for excellence against the very best in Oregon. Three straight dramatic road wins. The biggest game for Canby spring sports in nearly six decades.
We won’t remember the score of the 2022 championship 20 years from now.
We’ll remember the team that gave us all someone to root for.
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