GLADSTONE - In a rematch of a preseason contest between top-10 ranked teams, the No. 9 ranked Baker Bulldogs (18-7) won 2-1 over the eighth-ranked Gladstone Gladiators (17-10) Wednesday to advance to the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires Class 4A quarterfinals for a second straight year.
Abi Smith connected with a perfectly placed bunt in the sixth inning for a game-winning RBI single to help propell the Bulldogs to victory in the first round playoff game.
Baker starting pitcher Darryn McCauley scored the winning run and she helped guide an error free defense in the pitching circle that prevented a possible Gladstone comeback in the final two innings.
"I think it was an advantage for us having played them earlier this season, because we were familiar with their pitcher (Nena Dudley) and we were able to make some hitting adjustments at the plate," McCauley said.
"I felt confident before the game that we had a good chance to win. It's the playoffs and we've had all season to prepare for big matchups. We're really playing well right now and I think we're capable of reaching the championship game."
The two-time Greater Oregon League champion Bulldogs, led by sixth-year coach Alan McCauley, have now won 12 of their last 14 games.
Baker moves onto the next round and will travel to Klamath Falls to play the No. 1-ranked Henley Hornets (24-3) today at 2 p.m.
The game is a rematch of the 2011 quarterfinals in which Henley won 5-0 at Baker. Henley, the Skyline Conference champions, won 28-2 over La Salle Wednesday for its 19th consecutive win to reach the quarterfinals.
"We'll take things one game at a time in the playoffs, but it's going to be fun to hopefully get some revenge against Henley," said Coach McCauley.
"Our girls had a total of 35 at-bats, we left the bases loaded in three different innings and we didn't score any runs in that playoff game last year against Henley."
The contest was a completely opposite outcome of a March 31 nonleague home game that Gladstone won 2-1 at the Baker Spring Break Tournament.
"We knew coming out here that it would be another close game and that's what we expected," said Coach McCauley. "We played solid defense, we executed well in crucial situations and we had some timely hitting, which is usually the recipe for success."
Following two scoreless innings, Baker took a 1-0 third-inning edge when senior Stephanie Shepherd ripped a line drive to right field for an RBI single, driving home Danielle Freese, who earlier drew a walk. Freese advanced to second and third both times on a Gladstone passed ball.
"The team that scores first has the momentum and I felt pretty happy that I was able to help provide the spark to give us the lead," said Shepherd. "I'm excited to play Henley again. I feel totally confident that we can beat them. The rankings really don't mean anything and it should be a good game."
Gladstone, the Tri-Valley League co-champion with the Madras White Buffalos, responded in the fourth, scoring a run to knot it at 1-1.
After a scoreless fifth, McCauley ignited a sixth-inning rally with a leadoff single. After Darion Grove reached base on an error, both baserunners advanced one base on a sacrifice groundout at first by Taylor McAdams. Smith then stepped up to the plate and executed a bunt as McCauley sprinted home from third, scoring the go-ahead run for a 2-1 advantage.
"I felt really happy to get the key hit in a high pressure situation like that and I was actually surprised to see Darryn score," said Smith. "It's pretty exciting to move onto the next round of the playoffs. Henley knocked us off last year when we were ranked No. 1. Now we want to do the same thing to them and I feel confident that we can beat them."
In the bottom of the sixth, freshman right fielder Kayla Davis made two key plays to help thwart the Gladiators offense. Davis caught a fly ball for the first putout. She followed by fielding a fly ball and targeted a perfect throw to shortstop Tasha Nelson to get an assist on a putout of a Gladstone baserunner at second who was trying to stretch a single into a double. McCauley then struck out the third batter with a fastball to conclude the inning.
"I'm so excited to be get this win and I would definitely love to get revenge and beat Henley," said Darryn McCauley. "We need to score some runs though, because we just left too many runners on base in the game last year."
In the bottom of the seventh, Gladstone's Andra Breshears hit a one-out single to give Gladstone one final scoring opportunity. McAdams, Baker's second baseman, then scooped up an infield grounder and threw to Grove at first for the second out. Nelson then grabbed an infield grounder from the next Gladstone batter and tagged-out Breshears on her way to third for the final out of the game. The Bulldogs then followed with a victory celebration that included players hugging one another, as they screamed for joy, while cheering and slapping high five's.
"We only have three seniors (Shepherd, Jessi Stephens, McCauley), so this is actually a pretty young group of girls," said Alan McCauley. "They've jelled together pretty well as a team and they're starting to believe in themselve's so that's fun to see."
If the Bulldogs win today, they'll play in the semifinals May 29 against the winner of a quarterfinal matchup between Madras (19-8) vs. Cascade (22-4). The finals are June 2 at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
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McCauley and Stephens. Dudley and Muller. WP - McCauley. LP -Dudley.