BEAVERTON — From his spot in the right-hand hitter’s box, Jesuit catcher Joe Angeli figured he’d have to hit the ball somewhere on the right side of the South Salem infield Tuesday.
Here it was the bottom of the eighth inning of the 6A baseball semifinal at Jesuit’s Sprunk Stadium, the game was tied 2-2, the Saxons had been pitching him there all day, and the game-winning run — Conor O’Reilly — was dancing off second base.
From his spot in the third base coach’s box, Crusader coach Colin Griffin was eyeballing the same side of the field to see if the Saxons were maneuvering their fielders. He was absolutely sure what was going to happen next.
And it worked out just that way. Angeli shortened up and slapped the ball into right field. While Saxon right fielder Brayden Neuharth was charging the ball and loading up for a throw to the plate, O’Reilly was flying around third while Griffin was pinwheeling his arm to send him to the plate.
A stadium full of screaming fans will never know if there was a play at the plate or not. Neuharth, who made a major league throw two innings before to snuff another Crusader threat, overran the ball trying for a miracle scoop.
O’Reilly bellyflopped into home plate anyhow, scoring the one-out run that drove Jesuit past the Saxons 3-2 and into Saturday’s 6A championship game against — uh, oh, somebody call the Archbishop — Central Catholic.
The 15th-seeded Rams doused Clackamas 1-0 to earn their spot at Volcano Stadium.
Tuesday’s winning run came after O’Reilly and Kevin Blair hit back-to-back one-out singles. That brought Angeli to the plate against South right-hander Noah Ferguson.
Angeli quickly fell behind 0-2 and calculated what might be happening after that.
“The whole game I felt pretty confident that I was going to hit it to the right side,” he said. “Teams have been pitching me out there all year. I just figured I had to get my front foot down and slap it the other way.
“I recognized the curve ball and just tried to slap it.”
As he was fleeing down the first base line, he was watching the ball. So was Griffin.
“I was looking at the right side, too,” he said. “I’m very aware of how Joe hits with two strikes on him. He’s as good when he’s behind in the count as he is when he’s ahead.
“I had no doubt that he would put the ball in play hard.
“I wanted to make sure it got through and we wouldn’t get doubled up and lose the momentum. Once I saw it go through, I knew Conor’s a heck of an athlete. I was just wheeling him.”
Save a few outstanding plays on both sides — and one strange but accurate umpire’s ruling — either team could have won the game before that. The Crusaders got a single first-inning run off Saxon left-hander Sean Alvarado, but South (23-7) came right back with two in the second off Jesuit’s Ethan Wilson.
That’s the way it stayed until the sixth inning, thanks mainly to a highlight-reel full of great defensive plays by both teams. Like the three times Saxon sophomore third baseman Danny Alvarado charged bunts and gunned Crusaders down at first — often with gymnastic splits on the other end of the throw by first baseman Kaiden Doten.
Like Jesuit shortstop Will Spitznagel’s diving stop of a grounder behind second base that forced the lead runner out in the third inning. Like Danny Alvarado’s spinning throw on Wilson’s fifth-inning grounder and Doten’s incredible stretch at first for third out — with the tying run on third base.
The Saxons had a terrific opportunity to pad their lead in the top of the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out. But Crusader reliever Josh Daul got a strikeout and a groundout to strangle the threat.
Jesuit (25-5) was running out of time when it finally struck back in the bottom of the sixth. Spitznagel started it out with a one-out single to right field off Ferguson, then Campbell Brandt followed with a four-pitch walk. South shortstop Ryan Brown knocked down Kellar McCarthy’s line drive to keep the ball in the infield, but the bases were loaded.
The Crusaders finally got the clutch hit they needed when Blair ripped a single to left. Spitznagel pranced home with the tying run, and Brandt was right behind him with the go-ahead run.
Or so it looked. Brandt popped up and headed for the dugout, but South Salem wasn’t sure he touched home plate. South Salem catcher Greyson Hanowell grabbed the ball and stepped on home plate.
Home plate umpire Jim Courtney agreed and called Brandt out.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Griffin said. “The kids said he was out, and I wasn’t sure about anything.”
The Crusaders still had the advantage. McCarthy was on second when Angeli slashed a single — the second of his three in the game — to right field. Neuharth charged in and came up throwing. His rifle shot to the plate hit catcher Hanowell on the fly when McCarthy was five feet from the plate.
The two collided violently up the baseline. Hanowell came up showing the ball; McCarthy didn’t come up for another five minutes and retired from the game.
“I was rolling the dice,” Griffin said about the decision to send McCarthy. “I’m thinking the right fielder has to make a perfect throw to get him. He did. I take my hat off to him.”
Daul, the winning pitcher, yielded a single in the seventh, but also struck out five of the next six batters he faced.
That left it up to Joe Angeli in the bottom of the eighth. Turns out he was the perfect guy for the job.