Huskies win state baseball playoffs opener; host Newport Wednesday

Sean C. Morgan

It took nine innings, but the Huskies won their play-in baseball game 4-3 at home against South Umpqua Thursday, May 18, when Colton Smith knocked a shot deep into center field to score Keegan Holly.

South Umpqua built a 3-0 lead against the Huskies, scoring a run in the third inning and two in the fourth inning.

That’s when Keanu Aiona stepped to the plate and blasted his only hit of the day – over the fence. As his team rushed out to congratulate him, he turned and told his team it was time “to get fired up.”

“That was a spark that we needed,” said Coach John Best. “We needed somebody to do something. We needed to score a run. I really felt like that was the catalyst to get going.”

South Umpqua went three up, three down in the top of five. In the bottom of the inning with two outs, Devin Stafford singled to score Jon Elder, who reached base on a double, closing the gap.

In the sixth, South Umpqua fizzled with one batter reaching second base. For the Huskies, Austin James reached first on a fielder’s choice and stole second base. With two outs, Nate Virtue singled and scored James from second base tying the game 3-3.

South Umpqua went three-up, three down in the next three innings.

The Huskies put runners on base in the seventh but couldn’t score them.

“I thought we were going to win it in the bottom of the seventh,” Best said.

Smith hit bounced the ball between shortstop and second base into center field, and it looked like Stafford would score, Best said.

“There was only one play to get him out,” Best said. “And that center fielder made that throw. It was so close (the call) could have gone either way.”

South Umpqua held Sweet Home to three at bats in the eighth.

In the bottom of nine, Holly doubled. Kobe Olson sacrificed himself on a bunt to move Holly to third base.

In scoring position with one out, South Umpqua intentionally walked Stafford and Aiona, allowing a possible force out at home plate.

Without the play, Holly would score on a ground ball, Best said. Even on a fly out, he is fast enough to tag up and score.

It was South Umpqua’s only chance to make the play at home plate and prevent the Huskies from scoring.

Already batting 3-4 on the game, Smith stepped up with bases loaded, hitting the ball deep into center field to bring Holly home.

All he was trying to do was elevate the ball, Best said, but he managed to get it down.

At bat, Smith went 4-5 with a double. Stafford went 3-4 with a double. Elder hit the ball twice with a double. Holly had a double. Aiona had a home run, and Virtue had one hit.

Scoring runs were Holly, Aiona, James and Elder. Collecting RBIs were Stafford, Aiona, Virtue and Smith.

Devin Stafford pitched a complete game. He reached the pitch count limit, 110, on South Umpqua’s final batter. Pitchers are allowed to finish the final batter, and Stafford threw 111 times on the game.

“In nine innings, that’s just effective, really efficient pitching,” Best said. He was doing so well, and throwing so easily, the coaching staff just left him in the game.

He struck out eight batters, giving up seven hits, two earned runs and a walk. One batter was hit by pitch.

“He had a really good day,” Best said. “He was able to control both of his pitches – actually all three.”

Stafford is always effective when he can throw curves for strikes, Best said. “It’s probably one of the best games we’ve seen him pitch. He commanded the plate very well.”

When he got into trouble, gave up a hit or a walk, he came back and competed, Best said. He showed “a lot of heart.”

“The team’s super excited,” Best said. “We’ve been playing good baseball.”

The Huskies have lost just one game in May, to Elmira, he said, and they’ve beaten tough teams, like Sisters, Cottage Grove and Blanchett playing “the best baseball we’ve played all year.”

The Huskies will host Newport in the first round of playoffs at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“I think they’re going to be tough,” Best said. Newport is probably the toughest “three seed.” It will be well-coached, and it has had recent success in playoff games.

“We’re going to have to play our brand of baseball to beat them,” Best said. “But I think they’re beatable.”

Ranked 11th in the state, Newport is 10-5 and third in the Oregon West Conference behind North Marion, 11-4, and Philomath, 13-2.

Sweet Home is ranked fifth in the state and is 11-4 behind Sisters, 12-3, in the Sky-Em League.

Newport won its play-in game against Scappoose, 7-8, the fourth seed in the Cowapa League, which includes two top-10 teams, Astoria and Banks, both 12-3.

South Umpqua 001 200 000 – 3 7 2

Sweet Home 000 111 001 – 4 12 1

Johnson, Gray (9) and Gross. Stafford and Aiona. WP: Stafford. LP: Gray.