You can’t call these boys Cinderella, but their story is turning out to be just that.
After finishing the season at the bottom of the conference but ranked high enough to qualify for a state championship play-in game, the Hood River Valley Eagles pulled off their third straight upset of the post-season Friday to advance to the OSAA 5A State Championship semifinals — a milestone in HRV baseball history not reached since 1993 when the 3A team, coached by Glenn Elliott, lost 4-3 to Scappoose for a shot at the finals.
The Eagles traveled to No. 2-ranked Crescent Valley Tuesday for their semi-showdown, and although results were unavailable as of press time, it’s safe to say coach Erich Harjo and the Eagles will be stoked about the season’s turn of the tides regardless of the outcome.
Baseball can be a cruel game sometimes — a lesson Pendleton learned firsthand Friday as the Eagles, whom they had defeated on four separate occasions during the regular season, scored three sixth-inning runs in the span of just a couple of minutes, then closed out the seventh defensively to claim the 5-4 come-from-behind victory and exit with a seat in the tournament’s elite final-four.
Skyler Hunter opened on the mound for the Eagles and pitched a little more than one inning before Patrick Harvey took over for the next three and two-thirds. The two combined for three scoreless innings before Pendleton got on the board with a big, three-run fourth to take the 3-2 lead. The Eagles went ahead in the third off a two-run RBI from Alex Jimenez, who drove in Skyler Hunter and Connor Curtis, who both singled to get on base.
Pendleton, aided by two HRV errors, scored a security run in the fifth to go up by two before shortstop Kam Walker could make the final put-out of the inning to end the damage.
Coach Erich Harjo put his stock in Ryan Ward to close out the final two innings on the mound — a risky decision since he had pitched a complete game just two days earlier in the team’s 5-2 win over Springfield. Ward came through with the clutch save, however, and allowed no hits in both innings.
With time quickly running out, the Eagles caught a major break in the top of the sixth inning, as Pendleton pitcher Quinn Cockburn showed signs of tiring. Cockburn walked Jimenez, then Kellan Duffy singled to put the tying run at bat. Ward then laid down a bunt, which Pendleton wildly misplayed; Jimenez and Duffy both scored on the error and Ward made it around to third. In the clutch, Kam Walker had a first-pitch line-drive up the middle to bring in Walker and give the Eagles the lead, which they did not relinquish.
Of great note, HRV pitching tallied just two strikeouts, meaning the rest of the team had a huge defensive game to limit the Buckaroos to five hits. Walker led with four put-outs from shortstop, followed by Hunter, Martin, Harvey, Jimenez and Ward with three each from their positions.
Meanwhile, Cockburn had the same statistic — just two strikeouts — meaning the Eagles had no trouble making contact with the ball. Hunter, Buckley, Walker, Harvey Jimenez, Duffy and Ward all had one hit each, while Ward and Jimenez had to RBI and Walker had one.
n At the same time HRV was playing No. 2-ranked Crescent Valley in Corvallis Tuesday, No. 9 Sandy was at No. 5 Sherwood in the other 5A semifinal matchup. The winners of Tuesday’s games will face off Saturday at Volcano Stadium in Keizer for the championship.