Gabe Umbarger’s early home run put the Pendleton Buckaroos to the 5A state championships.

On Tuesday, the senior centerfielder drove a fly ball over the right field fence to score three runs and overcome a 2-1 deficit against their West Albany hosts in a 5A semifinals matchup. The Bulldogs would put just one more run on the board, and couldn’t stop Pendleton from taking home a 4-3 victory.

The Bucks will travel to Keizer on Saturday to challenge the 5A’s top-ranked Central Panthers in a state championship game. It will be their first championship appearance since 1992.

“We’ve had good teams that have been to the quarters and semis,” said Pendleton coach TJ Haguewood, “but it’s been a long time. We’re honored to be that team.”

Not only did Umbarger seal the game for the Bucks, but he also got things going in the top of the first inning as he scored on Ty Beers’ single to put Pendleton up 1-0.

Ryan Stahl let two runs slip after walking two Bulldogs and hitting another to load the bases. West Albany’s Kellan Soriano drew a walk to put their first run on the board, and Carson Van Dyke singled on the next at-bat to drive in another run.

It would be the only Bulldog lead, and it wouldn’t last.

With Tanner Sweek and Kyle Field both on base, Umbarger sent a 1-2 pitch out of the park for what would end up being the game-winning hit in the top of the second.

“That’s the difference,” Haguewood said. “Gabe crushed it — that’s it.”

Central’s Porter Phillips singled on a line drive to left field to drive in Blake Bowers, but neither team would score another run for the remainder of the game, leaving Pendleton ahead for good.

Stahl tallied three strikeouts, but allowed five walks and three runs over four innings spent on the mound. Chris Large threw three innings of relief and kept the Bulldogs away from home.

“Ryan was our ace, but he started to struggle,” Haugewood said. “He battled and gave us enough innings before turning it over to Large. (Large) threw a heck of a game and finished strong.”

Umbarger’s 2-for-3 showing at the plate scored two runs and generated three RBIs — enough to lead Pendleton’s offense. Bowers went 2-for-4 for West Albany, but only put one run on the board. Chase Reynolds fanned seven Buckaroos, but surrendered all four of Pendleton’s runs.

Pendleton’s Saturday opponents are coming off a 1-0 semifinals win over Thurston. The Panthers are coming in as the No. 1 seed in the 5A division, while the Bucks are the underdogs at No. 9.

“I’ve had two teams while I coached at Weston-McEwen play (at Keizer),” Haguewood said. “It’s a different feeling — it’s almost like you’re on an island, away from the highways. It’s different than your typical high school ball park.”

The two teams will contend for the state title at the Salem-Keizer Volcano Stadium. The last time the Bucks played in a title game, they lost to McNary 7-4 in the 4A championships.

“It’s not just a varsity win — it’s a program win,” Haguewood said. “The boys have played their butts off all season, and I can’t say enough about the assistant coaches and what they do.”

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