KEIZER — Pendleton watched their dream season quickly crumble as two bad innings led to the Central Panthers winning the Oregon School Activities Association 5A baseball state title.
On Saturday, the 5A’s top-ranked Panthers put up nine runs in the first two innings on their way to beating the Bucks and claiming the state title 11-4 at Volcanoes Stadium.
Although no team hopes to take home a second place trophy, Pendleton coach TJ Haguewood knows that moments likes these only come around every so often. The last time the Bucks were in this position, it was the spring of 1992, where they lost a 4A championship game in Portland to McNary, 7-4.
“I went to that game,” Haguewood said. “I went as a fan. I bleed green. This was a really special opportunity. It’s a tough way to end the season, but I couldn’t be more proud of the boys.”
Pendleton starting pitcher Cooper Roberts struck out Central’s lead-off batter Hunter Chase, but the next three batters each had singles, including Brendan Lesmeister, whose line drive to left field drove a runner home. Emiliano Alarcon would do the same on the next at-bat, and Justin Girod’s two-run single would cap off the four-run inning.
It was a lead that the Panthers never gave up. The four-run burst set down the path early to their first state title since 1958, when they shut out Myrtle Creek 6-0 in the A-2 state championships.
“I’m just happy for the guys. They worked extremely hard to enjoy this,” said Central coach Tom Roberts. “I can’t say enough about Pendleton. They just keep grinding, grinding, grinding. That says a lot about them as a team.”
With just one out on the board, the Panthers posted five more runs in the the bottom of the second. Alarcon and Brandon Lopez drove in two apiece with their back-to-back singles.
The Bucks would get on the scoreboard in the following inning.
“Before the game, coach Wes (Armstrong) said that we’re battle-tested,” said Pendleton center fielder Gabe Umbarger. “This game showed it.”
Umbarger singled for Pendleton’s first hit of the day. Panthers pitcher Ruben Cedillo walked two Bucks to send Matt Demianew in to put Pendleton on the board. Matt Demianew would score on Ty Beers’ sacrifice fly before the inning’s end.
“We showed a lot of character,” Umbarger said. “We put runners on base and runs on the board. We had to believe in ourselves and what we could do. That’s what it took to get started.”
Roberts and Chris Large surrendered 10 runs within the first three innings before Demianew took to the mound. He would only allow one more run over the final four innings.
“Central is a really strong-hitting team,” Demianew said. “They put the ball in really good spots. We were throwing good, they were just able to hit against our pitchers.”
Pendleton drew four straight walks in the top of the fifth in which they scored their final runs, but Leismester, who relieved Cedillo on the mound, would hold them scoreless for the remainder of the game.
Cedillo hit a perfect 4-for-4 and scored two runs. Conner Laeng scored three runs and had an RBI.
Pendleton finished the season with a record of 18-9 season.
“There’s no quit in these boys,” said Haguewood. “I’m super proud of them. It takes special players and extra opportunities to fight back like they did. Hopefully we’ll be back next year.”