Philomath High School’s baseball team has obviously peaked at the right time. Stayton, Newport, Blanchet Catholic and Henley can all attest to just how well the Warriors have been playing over the past three-plus weeks.
Banks, the No. 1-seeded team in the Class 4A state playoffs, added its name to the list on Friday. Philomath moved on to the semifinals by defeating the Braves, 2-1, in a thriller that came down to the final out.
“The atmosphere was awesome and we had great support from the crowd — parents, fans, families,” PHS coach Levi Webber said. “It was just a really intense game the whole time and so it was a lot of fun. Obviously, it’s nice to come out on top but … it was just a great high school baseball state playoff game.”
Eighth-seeded Philomath (17-9) will now face fourth-seeded La Grande (26-1) with a long road trip this coming Tuesday. La Grande, champions of the Greater Oregon League, defeated Marist Catholic, 10-4, in the quarterfinals.
The Oregon West Conference champion Warriors have now won eight straight and 11 of their last 12. The game against La Grande will be Philomath’s first appearance in the semifinals since 2017 when the Warriors lost to Henley.
In the victory over Banks, the game remained tight all the way through. Philomath starter David Griffith put together his latest solid outing on the mound to pick up the win with his five-inning, 80-pitch performance that included three hits and three walks allowed with two strikeouts.
“There hasn’t been a game this year when he’s pitched that’s gotten away from him,” Webber said about the junior. “He’s kept us in it, he’s given us opportunities … he finds a way and does a good job.”
Senior Cameron Ordway earned a save with his two innings of work. He threw 28 pitches and allowed one hit and one walk with four strikeouts.
Philomath broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning with a pair of runs. Senior Carson Gerding led off with a double to center field and moved over to third on a wild pitch.
“It was kind of a hustle double — their center fielder did a good job of cutting the ball off in the gap but he was thinking two out of the box and got himself to second base,” Webber said.
Sophomore Mason Stearns followed with a single to left for a 1-0 lead.
“Mason did a good job of just making sure he got a pitch he could handle and put a good swing on it,” Webber said.
Stearns made his way around the bases and scored the team’s second run on a two-out Griffith single.
Said Webber, “Dave came through with a big knock and helped himself out … he just smashed the ball right back up the middle and it turned out to be a big one.”
Banks (22-3) put runners on base in every inning but the seventh but could not come up with the clutch hit except for its single run in the fifth. The Braves had two runners in scoring position with only one out in the second but Griffith pitched out of it with a strikeout and fly to left.
In the fourth, Banks again threatened with a base runner on third with one out. The coach called for a suicide squeeze but the batter missed and Philomath caught the base runner in a rundown between third and home for the second out. Griffith then ended the inning with a strikeout.
The lone run for the home team came in the fifth on a two-out one-run single by senior Charlie White.
In the seventh, Philomath faced the top of the order for the Braves but they went down 1-2-3. The first two outs happened quickly with a screamer to Skylar Brolin at third and a fly out to Gerding in center. Banks’ final hope came down to White, the team’s No. 3 batter who had driven in a run earlier in the game. Ordway struck him out on four pitches — the last one on a fastball away.
“It was a great pitch by Cam,” Webber said. “That’s their best hitter, too, the White kid that Cam got. He just made three really, really good pitches — blew a couple by him and then that strike three pitch was just outstanding.”
Philomath collected six hits in the game against Banks senior Colton Hessleman, who threw a complete game.
“Our outfielders played extremely well,” Webber said about the defense. “Alek (Russell) ran down a ball in the gap that looked like it was going to score a run, Carson ran down a ball that looked like it was going to get down and Blake (Niemann) made a couple of nice plays on some balls that he had to go back on.”
Webber said Banks has a little bit of a bigger ballpark than Philomath and the wind was blowing in. As a result, the pitchers needed to adjust.
“They did a good job of pitching to your park and letting the ‘D’ play for them,” Webber said. “We made some plays and got out of some tough situations.”
For Webber, it’s the closest playoff game he’s coached since his first season as Philomath’s coach. That was in 2010 when the Warriors reached the semifinals with wins of 3-2 over South Umpqua and 9-8 over Hidden Valley.
Up next for the Warriors will be La Grande, a team with very strong pitching. In fact, the four runs scored by Marist on Friday were the most allowed by the Tigers since April 13. La Grande had an incredible run of 12 straight shutouts from April 15 to May 13 — the Warriors among the victims (5-0 on April 23).
“I think we’re going to see the same kid (pitching) that we saw over there the first time and so the familiarity will be good for our guys,” Webber said, adding that the trip to La Grande earlier this season should help the players ease into the surroundings.
“Hopefully we can play the way we have been playing and find a way to scratch across some runs,” Webber said, “and Skylar does a good job of competing in the zone and keeping us in the game.”