By Jeremy McDonald
HILLSBORO, Ore.– There’s no better way to say its baseball is a game of momentum.
It was the Senior American JBO State Championship Game between Stayton and Banks, and for much of the game the Braves had the advantage and that baseball momentum in full force as they were a swing or two away from forcing a second game off the mercy rule.
But, Connor Hollenbeck had other plans as he denied Banks that opportunity entering the bottom of the seventh inning as the Stayton Eagle squad hadn’t loss a game all tournament entering this game.
“I just thought I just came and I thought I’ll just get through this one and I thought we were going to go to the next one, and I was just pitching just trying to get them out and just pitching,” said Hollenbeck. “But, our offense pulled it out and our defense got lucky kind of, but we pulled it out.
“It’s just awesome, just the feel of catching the ball, the catcher popping up and just catching the ball and strikeouts. It’s just awesome, I don’t know what to say,” added an energic Hollenbeck.
The game itself was a 9-1 lead for the Braves entering the bottom half of the seventh inning. Seemed almost certain that Banks had the game in hand with three outs from their third game of the day, but that was when the tides turned.
Some would just hope to string some hits together, maybe get a run or two together to get something going for the second game and it seemed as if that was the case when Carter Griffith brought in the Eagles second run with an RBI single with one out.
One out. Oh boy did that one hit open the flood gates over the course of the next two outs.
It started with smart plate awareness that led to taking advantage of what Banks gave them. RBI’s came in from players like catcher Tanner Manning driving two runs with two outs to make it 9-5, Eli Brown made it 9-6, the runs kept coming capping an eight-run improbable rally to make it a 9-all ball game as the momentum switched over in a hurry to Stayton.
“It was crazy, our bottom of our line-up started coming back, it’s cool to see that the bottom coming back,” said Hollenbeck.
The Eagle crowd, which was rather quiet throughout the game making a few cheers here and there were back in it. The Stayton dugout was buzzing like a kid on Christmas morning.
The question became, as the Braves scored 16 runs against the incredible run by the Mt. Angel squad in the game before, was how can they keep their emotions in check to walk-off the field with the first-place trophy right here, right now in the eighth inning?
“We all trust each other and let the adrenaline of the game take over,” said Manning as he took his spot behind the dish.
It was a quick inning. A one, two, three inning really, but as they got each out, excitement grew and grew with each of Hollenbeck-to-Manning connection or if it resulted in an out in the field.
When they took to the dugout in between innings, they had a feeling that this was it. The end was near and the goal was right there.
But the Braves didn’t make it easy on them getting an out on the board with Jared Jungwirth coming to plate. Jungwirth sent a dribbler to second, the scoop was dropped before it was picked up and thrown to first. Jungwirth beat the throw and using two pass balls to go from first-to-third base with one out and Griffith in the batter’s box.
“You just got to be a hundred-percent in the game, just don’t think about anything else,” said Jungwirth with a simple deep enough pop-fly could bring him home. “Just think of where the ball’s at and what’s happening.”
Griffith, who hit a two-run home run the day before against the same Banks team in the fifth inning of Stayton’s 6-4 eight inning win Saturday at Robert Arthur Brown Middle School, stepped into the batter’s box knowing one hit can end this game.
“It was pretty surreal, I was confident in myself that I was going to get a hit,” said Griffith. “But when I got down on the count, like 1-2, I was fought back and got the hit.”
The hit itself, was just in the right spot in the infield that no one could field it properly in time to throw out Jungwirth as he stormed home. Jungwirth and Griffith were about halfway down the basepaths when their coach on third base-side, their teammates and the Stayton crowd erupted as the ball dribbled into the shallow part of the outfield:
They were State Champions.
The Eagles stormed the field to meet Jungwirth and Griffith with the final score Stayton 10, Banks 9. A nine-run swing over a four-out period. Incredible, indescribable, improbable with how the game was about 20, 30 minutes earlier.
But they did it.
The rally caps, baseball juju, Jobu from the movie Major League, whatever you call it or believe in…worked Sunday afternoon in Hillsboro as Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ played over the sound-system.
“Yeah I was watching it and I started to jog to first,” smiled and laughed Griffith. “It was pretty exciting, it was pretty awesome. We were down on ourselves and then we started rallying and we started to get hits and hits and we started to get more excited and then we all just came together.”
“We fell behind at the start, but we never gave up and from the efforts from everyone, even the smallest thing, we came back and we were able to come back and win,” adds Manning as he still had some of his catcher gear still on after the game and getting their awards.
As they were awarded their medals, little plaques and met as a team one last time, this game will certainly be with them as long as they will remember as they enter their eighth-grade or their freshman year of High School.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald