In the bottom of the seventh inning in their play-in game against Junction City last Thursday, the fate of the Indians' baseball season laid on the shoulders of senior Aaron Alexander as he took the plate.
The Indians were down by two heading into the bottom of the seventh inning as their luck appeared to be running out.
Things looked up a bit, however, as Molalla hit the top of the batting order to start off the inning. Sophomore Jeff Larsen took the plate first, and was the first out of the inning on a strikeout.
Senior Trevor Miles was up next and would face the same fate. Two outs loomed on the scoreboard.
Alexander then stepped up as he was no doubt feeling the pressure of possibly being the last out of the season, and having his possible last at-bat of his high school career.
He overcame that pressure, however, as he slugged a line drive into left field for a single. The Indians were still alive.
Junior Braden Hibbs took the plate next as Alexander stole second; the Tigers were called for interference as Alexander was given a free base. Hibbs had the chance to drive in a run and start a two-out rally.
He sent a hot grounder to third, beating out the throw as Alexander scored to make it a one score game, with the tying run on first.
Senior Will Schaefer stepped into the box next. He soon faced an 0-2 count when he smashed a line drive to right field as Hibbs rounded second, eventually beating the throw to third.
Freshman Damian Pingo then took the plate, but head coach Jim Dantona decided to pull out one of his tricks as he intentionally put Schaefer in a pickle between first and second base, baiting the Tigers to make a decision between Schaefer in the pickle or Hibbs as he looked to steal home. Hibbs went for it as the Tigers went home, beating the throw on the slide to score the tying run.
Meanwhile, Schaefer then stole third on a ball in the dirt a few pitches later, as Pingo now had the chance to win the game. He hit a groundout to second base to send the game into extra innings.
Alexander took the mound as he started the inning close to the 110-pitch count limit. He struck out the first two batters and then threw a ground ball to the third batter that was muffed by Larsen at second.
The next batter, Alexander was at 107 pitches. As per OSAA rules, a pitcher is allowed to finish their current batter if they begin below their pitch limit. Alexander struck the batter out as he was officially finished for the day.
In the bottom of the eighth, junior Kolten Jordan took the plate first and was nailed in his glove arm just above the elbow on the first pitch. Freshman Casey Brooks took over as a pinch runner.
Freshman Linden Mackenzie took the batter's box next and laid down a clean bunt as the pitch struggled to field the ball, allowing Mackenzie to arrive safe at first and Brooks at second.
Junior Matt Roark was up next as he struck out for the first out of the inning; Molalla was back at the top of the batting order as Larsen struck out next for the second out.
Miles took the plate next as the winning run stood on second. He was just a fraction of a second late as he hit a hot grounder back to first base to end the inning.
Miles then took over for Alexander on the mound, and saw the first Tiger batter hit a quick line drive to left directly to Brooks, who made the catch for the first out.
Miles walked the next batter after seeing a full count, and then the next Tiger hit a line drive to left field to put runners on first and third with one out.
The next batter hit a line drive to Alexander at shortstop, but he couldn't field it cleanly as the go-ahead run scored, and runners stood on first and second.
Behind the plate, Hibbs tried to pick off the runner at second as he made a move for third, beating out the throw from Alexander. A few pitches later, a pop fly was sent to deep left as the runner at third was able to tag up and score. Junction City had taken back the lead by two.
One runner stood on base and attempted to steal second, but Hibbs wasn't going to let it happen again as he fired a rocket over Miles' head to get the out and end the inning.
Down by two and heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, this was Molalla's last shot. The Indians were in the middle of the lineup as Alexander took the plate first.He hit a pop fly to left field on the first pitch for the first out of the inning.
Hibbs was up next and hit a groundout to first base. Once again, Schaefer took the plate with two outs on the board.
He wasn't able to make magic happen this time, however, as he was just barely on top of the ball, sending a grounder to third base; he was half a step too late as Junction City was awarded the final out and the victory.
The Indians end the season with a second place finish in the Tri-Valley and a 15-8, 11-4 record under first year coach Dantona. They'll lose four seniors to graduation in Alexander, Miles, Schaefer, and Alex Hopkins.
Sports Reporter/News Contributor
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