PHS junior David Griffith reacts while approaching the plate on his home run trot in the second inning. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Philomath finally beat Henley in the Class 4A baseball playoffs. Heck, the Warriors finally beat the Hornets — period.

Over the years, Henley has been a thorn in the side of Philomath with nothing but victories in both the regular season and the postseason. The Hornets eliminated the Warriors from the playoffs in 2012 (first round), 2014 (quarterfinals), 2017 (semifinals) and 2019 (quarterfinals). Earlier this season, Henley won at Philomath, 7-4.

But the Warriors continued to ride a wave of momentum late this season with a first-round victory of 12-4 over the Hornets on Wednesday at Stephenson Field to earn a shot at No. 1 Banks in the quarterfinals.

“Out of all of the teams we’ve played before at the 4A level, this is the one team that we’ve never beaten,” Webber said. “They’re just such a good program and they’re a tough team to beat. I’m extremely proud of the way our kids came out and competed from pitch one.”

Webber told his team after Tuesday’s practice about Philomath’s history against Henley.

“I think that just put a little more fuel on the fire,” senior left fielder Alek Russell said, “and we wanted it even more. The results don’t lie … I think it helped us.”

Philomath (16-9) will play at top-seeded Banks on Friday with the first pitch scheduled for 5 p.m.

The Warriors have cleaned up their play over the past month of the season with fewer miscues in the field and improved hitting at the plate.

Said junior second baseman David Griffith, “Things have been feeling good — playing good defense, hitting the ball pretty good.”

During the team’s seven-game winning streak, Philomath batters have hit .335.

“All of the work has started to pay off and we’re really starting to focus and get better at-bats,” Griffith said. “Once you start hitting, you just keep feeding off of it and just keep it going and score more runs.”

Philomath’s dugout watches while junior Chad Russell lays down a sacrifice bunt in the third inning. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Webber said he noticed the team starting to turn the corner on an April 23 trip to La Grande. The Warriors lost games to the host school and Baker but positive signs were there with improved play on defense and on the mound. Then the bats started to find momentum in a series sweep that followed over Sisters.

“We haven’t scored a ton of runs but our pitching and our defense over the last four and a half to five weeks now, it’s just been outstanding,” Webber said. “Confidence breeds confidence so hopefully we can keep it rolling.”

In the win over the Hornets, pitcher Skylar Brolin worked through early challenges in a complete-game performance and the team banged out 10 hits, including solo home runs by Russell in the first and Griffith in the second.

“We came out and had the right mentality — we had the playoff mentality,” Russell said. “After a rough start to the beginning of the season, we pretty much took a look at ourselves and we knew what we were capable of. Something just clicked and everybody came out with that mentality … we wanted to win.”

Henley threatened in the first by loading the bases on a pair of infield singles and a walk — all with two outs. Brolin came through with a strikeout to escape the jam. In the bottom half, the Warriors scored two runs on a one-run double by senior Carson Gerding and on the Russell homer.

Alek Russell, left, and Cameron Ordway interact during Wednesday’s win.(Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

In the second, the Hornets took a 3-2 lead only to see Philomath respond with five of its own. Henley couldn’t keep pace the rest of the way.

“I’m extremely proud of the way our guys fought back, their grit, their toughness,” Webber said. “It was good to see and it was definitely fun to finally beat those guys.”

After Griffith’s home run to left-center to lead off the second, Henley went to its bullpen. Junior Chad Russell got aboard when he was hit by a pitch, took second on a wild pitch and stole third on a missed bunt attempt at the plate. He later scored on a ball that senior Logan Carter put into play toward second, reaching on an error.

After a double to right field by senior Cameron Ordway, the Warriors went up 6-3 on a two-run Gerding single. Sophomore Mason Stearns followed with a single and with an error on the center fielder, Gerding was able to reach home.

Philomath added three more in the third as Henley pitchers struggled with control. Four Warriors reached on walks — the last by Ordway with the bases loaded to force in a run. Stearns later singled in a run and with an error on the same play, a third one came in for a 10-3 lead.

Henley picked up a run in the fifth but Philomath came right back with two in the bottom half. Carter and Ordway hit back-to-back doubles for the first of those runs with the second being the result of a passed ball.

Senior Skylar Brolin threw a complete game in Wednesday’s first-round playoff victory over Henley. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Brolin threw 48 pitches through the first two innings but settled down and ended up with a complete game.

“Credit to him and his guts and his grit and determination to complete,” Webber said. “It’s kind of what it’s been from all our guys (at pitcher). Dave’s done the same thing, Cam’s done the same thing, Ty (May) got an opportunity last week against Blanchet and came in and did the same thing.”

Three players each had two hits in the win over Henley — Ordway, Gerding and Stearns. Gerding had three RBIs.

Banks advanced to the quarterfinals with 5-0 win on Wednesday over Madras.

“We haven’t seen them this year; we played them last year and they have a lot of the same kids back,” Webber said. “They’re a really good, athletic, solid team. Their catcher is a big physical kid who can really swing the bat and they’ve got a centerfielder who can run around and swing the bat and their shortstop is a really good baseball player.”

The Braves bring a 14-game winning streak into the matchup.

“It should be a really good baseball game,” Webber said. “I’m excited to go up there and have that opportunity. They definitely have all of our attention going up and obviously, they’re the No. 1 team in the state for a reason.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.