Sam McCauley’s pitch made only a dull thud when it hit Garrett Blowers, but the echoes reverberated through the rest of Baker’s season-ending 9-3 loss to Philomath Wednesday at the Sports Complex.
That pitch, in the top of the sixth inning, was the last for McCauley in what had been a mostly dominating performance.
The Baker junior struck out 10 of the 22 batters he faced through five innings.
Marshall Brattain tagged McCauley for a two-run homer in the fourth that gave Philomath a 2-1 lead. The Warriors extended the lead to 3-1 later in the inning on a throwing error.
But a 2-run deficit hardly seemed insurmountable, Baker Coach Tim Smith said.
The Bulldogs, facing Philomath senior Brandn Vogler, had hit the ball hard several times, albeit with little show for it.
Three of Baker’s first four batters singled, the last of those, by Mason Van Arsdall, driving in Dawson Linscott with the first run of the game.
But the Bulldogs left the bases loaded in the opening frame, the first of several missed chances.
“We had some opportunities early in the game and we left some base runners out there,” Smith said. “We just didn’t hit the ball the way we have all year. If we could have converted some of those chances I think the game would have turned out differently.”
Baker outhit Philomath 8-5.
But three of those hits were in the first inning, and three others in the sixth and seventh. Baker had just two hits from the second through the fifth innings.
The Bulldogs also stranded two runners in the second, and one in both the third and fourth innings.
But it was the top of the sixth that proved decisive.
McCauley started the inning by getting two strikes on Brattain. But a slightly wayward toss hit Brattain, giving Philomath a baserunner.
McCauley settled in with consecutive strikeouts of Calvin Snuggerud and Brian McClelland, his 11th and 12th of the game.
Brattain stole two bases, however, advancing to third with two outs.
With Blowers at bat, McCauley again picked up two strikes.
He also threw a pitch that looked as though it might be the third strike, which would have ended the inning with no damage done.
But it was a ball.
And the next pitch plunked Blowers.
Smith then replaced McCauley, who had thrown 110 pitches, with Connor Lay.
Two straight walks plated one run, and Philomath scored again on a wild pitch to extend its lead to 5-1.
Consecutive doubles by Brooks Stearn and Michael Slater drove in three more runs.
The second double was off Andrew Zellars, who replaced Lay. After giving up an RBI single to Dylan Bennett, Zellards induced Brattain to pop up to second baseman Spencer Smith to finally end the inning.
Baker, trailing by 8 runs with two innings left, didn’t go down quietly.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Spencer Smith lined a Vogler fastball over the leftfield wall for a solo home run that cut the Warriors’ lead to 9-2.
Logan Brashler singled with two outs but the Bulldogs couldn’t sustain a rally.
Relief pitcher Morgan Bennett set down Philomath in order in the seventh, and Baker had its final chance, this time against Adam Hernandez, who relieved Vogler.
Hernandez sandwiched two outs around McCauley’s walk. Lay then smashed a fastball over Snuggerud’s head in center field for a triple that drove in McCauley.
Bennett hit a slow roller to shortstop but Cameron Ordway’s throw just beat him to first base, ending the game.
It was a disappointing conclusion to a season that was anything but, Coach Smith said.
“We won 20 games, and to win 20 games in a high school season is quite an accomplishment,” he said of the Bulldogs, who finished with a 20-6 record. “We did a lot of good things this year. I told the kids to hold your heads high. The kids didn’t give up.”
Smith credited Vogler, who doesn’t have McCauley’s velocity, with mixing his speeds and working around the edges of the plate. Of Vogler’s 105 pitches, 70 were strikes.
“He kept us off balance,” Smith said. “He had us out on our front foot and when you do that you pop up a lot.”
Baker had four infield flies, one of which Philomath botched in the second inning.
Smith said McCauley threw well, allowing just five hits.
“Sam did fine, just fine,” he said.
Baker’s sixth-inning meltdown — Philomath scored all six runs, and had all three of its hits in the inning, with two outs — was the sort of fluky sequence that makes baseball so interesting, Smith said.
Ultimately, though, Philomath got the key hits and Baker did not, he said.
“That’s how you win a game, and we didn’t do it,” Smith said. “I told the kids, they just were the better team today.”
Baker’s Greater Oregon League rival, La Grande, also lost a first-round playoff game on Wednesday, falling 2-0 to Sweet Home.
Philomath 0 0 0 3 0 6 0 — 9
Baker 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 — 3
Vogler, Hernandez (7) and Stearn. McCauley, Lay (6), Zellars (6), Bennett (7) and Van Arsdall.
Baker hits — Linscott, McCauley, Van Arsdall 2, Lay, Smith, Brashler 2. Baker RBI — Van Arsdall, Lay, Smith. 3B — Lay. HR — Smith