Fresh off an upset victory over highly ranked Irrigon, the Taft baseball team was looking to make it two wins in a row early in the game against Santiam Christian. But late game heroics by the Eagles put an end to Taft’s storybook season.
Most would’ve considered the Taft High School baseball team underdogs in the first round of the playoffs when they were matched up with the 20-4 Irrigon Knights. The Tigers must have missed that memo, as they proceeded to take a 5-3 victory on enemy turf May 22.
Taft entered the first round of the State Playoffs as the No. 11 seed in the 16-team bracket. And after the win at Irrigon, the Tigers have certainly proved they’re much better than whatever ranking they are given.
Taft made the five plus hour drive to Irrigon knowing they were facing a tough opponent and after falling behind 3-0 early in the game, the Tigers didn’t falter.
“All week we stayed focused on what we were doing,” head coach Matt Hilgers said. “We knew going into the game that it was going to be a tough environment and that we had to keep our composure. We told the kids that they were going to be challenged and that we would have to overcome that challenge and give ourselves a chance to win the game at the end.”
The Tiger offense struggled through four scoreless innings to start the game, recording just two hits. But their fortuned turned around in the top of the fifth inning and Taft capitalized on a few Irrigon mistakes.
Taft drew two walks to open the inning, and then Lucas Hindman laid down a bunt, scoring Darius Smith. Trenton Fisher then drove home Ethan Thomas and the Tigers trailed by just one run. A Cody Knott double then scored two runs for the Taft, giving them their first lead at 4-3. Knott would then go on to steal home on a pass ball giving the Tigers a 5-3 advantage.
With the lead, Taft called upon Bleiz Kimbrough to close things out on the mound – and that’s just what he did.
Kimbrough pitched the final three innings, allowing no hits, walks or runs and striking out three to seal Taft’s first round win. On offense, Eli DeMello shined at the plate, going 4-for-4 and scoring a run. Knott had one hit with two RBI’s and also scored a run.
Although their were many dazzling individual performances to point to in the box score, Hilgers said it was truly and all around team effort that got them the win.
“Yes we had some guys that performed great, but I look at what the game was as a whole and if we did not have every single person in the lineup and in the field make a positive contribution, we would not be continuing our season this week,” Hilgers said. “I could name at least one thing that every player on our team did that put us in a situation that would allow us to win the game.”
Taft then faced the three seed Santiam Christian in the quarterfinals on May 24. The Eagles were 20-6 overall this season and are 2-0 against the Tigers already.
On March 18, Santiam Christian won an offense heavy 11-10 game at home, and then on April 4, the Eagles again beat Taft on their home turf 11-7.
The Tigers held a seven game win streak and it was looking to be eight early on in the game as Taft jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the second inning. But the Eagles rallied, chipping away at the deficit and eventually evening the game at 6-6 late in the contest.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Santiam Christian blew the game wide open, scoring another six runs to put the game away as it ended in a 12-6 victory in favor of the Eagles.
Hilgers said he was proud of the effort his team showed all season, and with just a few graduating seniors this season, Taft will undoubtedly be poised for another post-season run next year.