PORTLAND, Ore. — Lesson No. 1 of the OSAA 6A baseball playoffs: Don’t count West Linn out.
The No. 6 Lions (23-7) came from behind to defeat No. 3 Central Catholic (23-7) 2-1 in eight innings in the OSAA 6A baseball quarterfinals on Friday at Concordia University. It was the Lions’ second straight comeback win with its season on the brink.
“They have huge hearts,” West Linn manager Joe Monahan said. “They have tremendous skill. But, when you play with your hearts above your skill level, you make comebacks like this.”
West Linn trailed Three Rivers League rival Tualatin 7-2 in its second round matchup on Wednesday. The Lions came back to win that game 10-7 after a walk-off three-run home run by Will Matthiessen.
Friday night’s hero was Tate Hoffman, who embodied West Linn’s never give in mentality.
The junior first baseman struck out in his first two at-bats against Central Catholic ace Cole Stringer. Tate’s second at-bat came in the top of the fifth inning with one out and a runner on first.
After getting the hit and run sign from his coach, Colton Cosner, who picked up just the Lions’ second hit the at-bat before, took off from first base, but Hoffman failed to swing at the pitch. Rams catcher J.J. Cichoke threw Cosner out at second to end one of the Lions’ threat. A couple pitches later, Hoffman struck out looking.
“I told him you’re a great player, just get your mind right right now,” Monahan said to Hoffman before his eighth inning at-bat. “It’s the perfect time to do it. And he did.”
Hoffman led off the eighth inning for the Lions looking for redemption.
“I was just trying to get on base to lead off the inning,” Hoffman said. “Even a single, I would have been happy with.”
He did much better than single. The right-hander turned on a curveball, sending well over the left field fence for a solo home run, giving West Linn a 2-1 lead.
“I didn’t have a great game hitting, but he hung a curveball and I made the most of it,” Hoffman said.
Karsen Lindell, who threw all eight innings for the Lions, took care of the rest. The University of Washington-bound right-hander allowed just one hit and recorded ten strikeouts.
“Two-seam (fastball) inside was definitely working best,” Lindell, who was making his second start of the week, said. “And then outside with the off-speed.”
The one hit Lindell gave up put the Lions in a hole.
Central Catholic right-fielder Tyson Cooper drilled a pitch to center field to begin the bottom of the fifth inning. Because of the deep wall setup in center field at Concordia, where the baseball field is also part of the soccer field, the ball kept rolling and rolling. Cooper was able to just beat the relay throw in to home for an inside the park home run to put the Rams up 1-0.
“It was just another run that somebody scored and we just have to come from behind,” Monahan said. “I don’t think anybody got worried about that.”
Lindell’s counterpart on the mound, left-hander Cole Stringer, had only allowed two hits up that point and it looked like the one run would be enough.
However, West Linn answered right back in the top of the sixth inning as Tim Tawa hit a hard ground ball down the third base line for an RBI double.
“It’s stressful, to be honest,” Lindell said of his team’s late-game dramatics. “I know we can do it and we’re doing it.”
The Lions will host No. 7 McMinnville (24-5), who defeated No. 2 North Medford 3-0 in the quarterfinals, on Tuesday for a chance to play in the state championship game.
Check out the full 6A playoff bracket here.