By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– The pursuit of their first league title since 2012 wasn’t that easy under the 90-degree heat Friday afternoon in their doubleheader sweep of Mountain View late in the season.
But as Elijah Enomoto-Haole polished off a three-strikeout save with the bases loaded of the Cougars in the 9-8 win to open the double-frame, it was a sigh of relief finally being able to get one of their team goals out of the way moving into their final two games of the season.
“We all knew what was on the line. We all set a goal for the league title and I knew it was right there, we just had to go out there and win it,” said Enomoto-Haole, who struck out seven total in the doubleheader.
All the Saxons needed was to win these two games to win the title outright. With Sprague a game behind them in the standings, the Olympians were hoping that South Salem would stumble along the way to open up the door for them for the league title conversation even further than it was entering Friday.
And it looked like the Saxons, through the energy-zapping heat, were going to almost glide into the League Championship Title headlines for the first-time since 2012 leading 7-1 and a strike away from going into the bottom of the sixth inning with the lead in tact.
A switch in pitchers from Tyler Minney to Brett Matthews because of pitch counts mid at-bat gave the Junior Matthews an opportunity to be the dude on the mound that snaps the title drought for South Salem.
But hey, it’s baseball right? Nothing is guaranteed as you still have to finish getting this next out and the three that follows in the seventh.
That last strike, that last out in the sixth proved to be the toughest as it always seem to be in America’s Pastimes. Almost as they did in the third inning of the first game, the Cougars marched back into the game with a four-run inning.
Now it was 7-5 entering the bottom of the sixth. The momentum was creeping towards Mountain View’s direction as they picked up two quick outs in the sixth inning.
Yeah the Saxons were calm, maybe some nerves knowing they need some extra insurance entering the next inning, but overall they were calm.
That calm turned into excitement however when Danny Alvarado sent a shot out of the ballpark for a solo homerun. It was one of the few crucial plays South needed to make in the heat of the two games to make it happen at the end of the day.
“It’s just a grind. This whole season has been a grind for us and it goes to show us how to be grown a little bit,” said Alvarado, who went 2-for-4 in Game 2. “We’ve been pretty big headed going into games with a lot of bad mentality. But I feel like once we get there and once we get past all of that stuff, we could turn it on very well.
“So I feel like if we go into a game with a nameless, faceless opponent will be able to crush some teams. But as of right now, we’re kind of overthinking it a little too much.”
And the next two games, against Grant and Aloha, will help them with the mentality aspect of the game said Alvarado.
It wasn’t long following the homerun that South Salem’s defense turned the 4-6-3 double play and Kaiden Doten chased down a ground-ball off the first base bag and making it back in time for the final out to seal the 9-8, 8-5 sweep Friday.
The feeling was excitement was there of course, they saw McMinnville win the Greater Valley Conference two-years ago and themselves tying with West Salem last season at 13-3 before seeing their hard-work finally pay off with them winning the league title outright in 2019.
“Oh it feels great. The last two years we were so close to winning it and to get it…I think a lot of the credit goes to our hard work we’ve put in,” said Doten. “We’ve had an amazing coaching staff and they kind of dedicate so much of their time to us, they deserve a lot of the credit.”
Photos By Jeremy McDonald