Philomath's Kash Lindsey beats the tag attempt by Sweet Home pitcher Kaden Zajic to score the go-ahead run in the fourth inning. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

The runs were hard to come by in Philomath High’s series-finale against Sweet Home Saturday afternoon at Terry Stephenson Field. So when the opportunity to score materialized in the bottom of the fourth inning with the score tied 1-1, the Warriors needed to make it happen.

Junior Kash Lindsey led off the inning with a walk and eventually made his way over to third. After a strikeout and another walk, the Warriors had something going with senior Brayden Shenk at the plate. Coach Levi Webber called a quick timeout to confer with him.

Moments later, Sweet Home pitcher Kaden Zajic’s throw to plate got away and bounced past the catcher. Lindsey sprinted for home.

“Webber’s always talking about us being aggressive and as soon as I saw that down, I knew that if we wanted to win this game, I had no choice but to get up there,” Lindsey said following Philomath’s 3-2 victory. “Thank God, that’s what happened — I made it.”

The play at the plate was close with the ball bouncing off the backstop into the glove of catcher Lewis Conn. He quickly got the ball to Zajic, who was covering the plate. Lindsey was able to get there in time, however, for the crucial run.

The Warriors added another run in the sixth, escaped a late threat in the seventh and enjoyed effective pitching from starter Joe Barnes and reliever David Griffith to win their sixth straight.

“I feel as we go through more games in the season, we’ll start to come together better as a team,” Lindsey said. “You can see it in the way we move throughout the field — like we just played completely better together … we’re starting to form as one.”

The performance on the mound by Barnes was especially noteworthy with the Huskies unable to do much against the sophomore’s fastball. Sweet Home was able to get to first five times on walks but as far as hitting goes, they couldn’t do much of anything against the hard-throwing Barnes.

Barnes struck out seven in five innings. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

“I was battling a little bit with pitches, struggling at the start but I had good defense behind me and I trust them a lot,” said Barnes, who allowed just one hit and had seven strikeouts in a 101-pitch performance.

Webber loved seeing Barnes have an effective outing. He struggled in his first relief appearance this season during a loss at Santiam Christian but followed up with a good effort against Madras.

Asked about how he was able to work through the difficulties he experienced in his first work this season, Barnes said, “Just breathe, take more time and do it — don’t rush everything.”

The one run that Sweet Home scored while he was on the mound Saturday was unearned. He had his challenges at times with the strike zone but he was always able to regroup and pitch out of situations.

“For his first varsity start and in a league game, to come out and give us five innings of one-hit ball and to only give up one run, I thought it was really good,” Webber said.

When Barnes reached a high pitch count, Webber brought in Griffith to close the door. Griffith earned a save in a two-inning appearance in which he allowed no hits and three walks with one strikeout.

Sweet Home scored in the top of the first. Jacob Sieminski reached on an error and later scored on a wild pitch.

PHS freshman Caleb Babcock scores his team’s first run. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Philomath evened the score in the third. Freshman Caleb Babcock led off with a single, stole second and scored on a single into left field by sophomore Logan Matthews. Lindsey followed with his run in the fourth for a 2-1 lead.

In the sixth, the Warriors produced an important insurance run, considering what would happen in the seventh. 

“When you get late in the game and it’s tight like that, any extra run you can get is big,” Webber said. “I wasn’t super happy that we left another one out there … We’ve got to make sure we do a better job there.”

Philomath had loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth inning but got just the one run out of it. Junior Mason Stearns walked on four pitches, Griffith squared to bunt during his plate appearance but ended up walking and then Lindsey was hit by a pitch.

Sweet Home brought in Kelso Ellis in relief of Zajic and PHS senior Chad Russell responded by hitting a sacrifice fly to center field to bring in Stearns. Sophomore Grant Niemann then walked to again load the bases but Philomath stranded them with a strikeout and first-pitch infield grounder for a force at second.

“We did a good job of scratching that one across late to give us a little bit of separation,” Webber said. “It’s what we needed to make sure we got out of here with a win.”

Chad Russell’s sacrifice fly in the sixth to drive in Mason Stearns turned out to be the difference. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

In the seventh, Sieminski led off and after dodging a bullet when Philomath failed to make a catch on a foul ball, reached first base on a walk. He stole second, moved to third on a flyball out to right field and scored when Zajic grounded out to the shortstop. Philomath conceded the run on the play to record the inning’s second out.

The game then ended with a ground out to third. Lindsey’s throw to first was a little off the mark but first baseman Ty May made the catch and tagged out the runner.

The Warriors have won several close games so far this season, which includes two one-run victories against Sweet Home.

“There’s always work to be done, that’s for sure, but we’re definitely getting closer to where we want to be,” Webber said.

Philomath, Stayton and North Marion all made it through the first week of league play with 3-0 records and sit atop the Oregon West. Philomath and Stayton will clash this coming week with a three-game set — two of those slated to be played at the Warriors’ home field.

Stayton took three straight over Newport with victories of 13-1, 9-1 and 4-3. Pitching and defense appears to be a strength for the Eagles — they’ve allowed three or fewer runs in eight of their 10 games.

“They’re going to throw a ton of strikes on the mound,” Webber said. “I don’t think they’re going to have anybody really overpower you — the (Cody) Leming kid’s pretty tough — but they just pound the zone and they play really good defense behind them.”

Philomath will need to cash in and score runs when in position.

“If you leave runs out there against good teams like that, it’s going to come back and bite you in the butt,” Webber said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of those things.”

On the other end, the coach said the pitchers need to continue what they’ve been doing and “hopefully, the defense starts coming around.”

Senior David Griffith pitched the sixth and seventh innings for the save. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

The defense has been the most glaring issue so far this season with errors keeping opposing teams in games.

“With the way the weather’s been the way it is, that’s been a big reason why the defense hasn’t really been up to our standards,” Webber said. “We just haven’t been able to get the reps on the field that we need.”

 The Saturday afternoon appearance against the Huskies actually represented Philomath’s first official varsity home game this season. The program has gone through challenges with its field during this wet spring. The only “home” game that was played prior to Sweet Home occurred on April 3 against Madras — but that took place at Crescent Valley in Corvallis.

“We’re a month and a half into the season and you get your first home game, I mean, it was nice,” Webber said. “It felt a little weird playing at home … it’s been a while. But we were excited to get out here and had a great day finally to do it and I’m just happy to get out with a win.”

The players must’ve enjoyed playing at Terry Stephenson Field after 10 straight out of town.

Said Lindsey, “It’s always a great feeling to play at home. You’ve got the home crowd, small town, everybody knows you — just playing baseball and having fun being a high schooler.”

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

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.