At this point of the season, rankings, records and stats don’t mean a thing.
There are just two teams left in the bracket, with a state title on the line.
The Pendleton Bucks find themselves as one of the final two teams in the 5A state baseball bracket. They will take on Central High School at 5 p.m. Saturday at Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Stadium for the championship trophy.
“They are ready,” Pendleton coach TJ Haguewood said. “For some, there is no better opportunity than now to get to play for a championship. They are prepared and they are excited.”
It’s the first time since 1992 that the Bucks have advanced to the title game. That year, they lost the 4A championship game to McNary 7-4 at Civic Stadium in Portland.
The Bucks, who have never won a state baseball title, also placed second in 1985 (3-2 loss to Beaverton), 1975 (6-0 loss to Klamath Union), and 1963 (5-0 loss to Madison).
Central has one state baseball title to its credit — beating Myrtle Creek 6-0 in the A-2 championship game in 1958.
Coach Tom Roberts said the Panthers have not had this type of success since the 1980s.
“It’s been a while since Central baseball has reached this level,” Roberts said. “I have a big senior class and they have won some big games over the years, but they haven’t been able to put it all together. We have that fighting mentality. We are 30 miles from the stadium, so we are hoping for a good crowd.”
The Bucks (18-8), who won the regular-season Intermountain Conference title with a 12-3 record, opened the state playoffs with a 4-3 victory over Wilsonville.
Pendleton shut out Crescent Valley 6-0 in the quarterfinals, then topped West Albany 4-3 on Tuesday in the semifinals.
“We have a lot of respect for Central,” Haguewood said. “We have beaten three really good ball clubs already. Central has been No. 1 all year, and they have good pitching and defense. We know it will be a battle. We know we have to execute. We have as good a chance as anyone else.”
Pendleton will start junior Cooper Roberts, and while he has had a successful season, the Bucks have backed their pitching staff with timely hitting and and stellar defense.
“We are a team, not one guy,” Haguewood said. “We have guys who contribute day in and day out. I’m proud of the way they have come together. They have one last game to go to battle with their buddies.”
The Panthers (24-4), beat Thurston 1-0 in the semifinals, getting a solid outing from 6-foot-5 senior Kaleb Kantola.
Central will start senior Ruben Cedillo against the Bucks.
“We have a deep pitching staff,” Roberts said. “We are confident in our next guy up.”
Roberts said he has not seen Pendleton play, but he has gotten a few scouting reports.
“From what I’ve heard, they will have solid pitching,” he said. “We are not taking them lightly. Their ranking (No. 9) might not show it, but they are a good team.”
The one advantage the Panthers may have Saturday, is they have played three games at Volcanoes Stadium this spring, while the Bucks have never been there.
Haguewood has been there twice in 2A/1A title games with Weston-McEwen in 2012 and 2014.
“The field is deeper, and the sounds are different because it is next to the freeway,” Haguewood said.
With the semifinals Tuesday and the finals Saturday, Roberts said his kids were ready to play the next day.
“There is that anticipation,” he said. “We just have to keep them loose and focused. The last thing we we say to them, is remember to have fun, make a good memory and enjoy it.”