Entering Wednesday’s state playoff baseball opener, the Dufur Rangers were limping in as losers of four of their last five games.
They needed a mercy-ruled win over Sherman last Saturday in Pendleton just to earn a playoff berth.
The Prospectors were riding strong on a seven-game winning streak where they had outscored their opponents by a 160-17 margin, including a 65-0 dismantling of Prairie City last Friday.
That was Prairie City, of course, not the running Rangers.
Nick Little and Cole Parke scored the final two runs in the top of the seventh inning and Parke slammed the door shut in the home half to cement an 8-7 victory over Grant Union in 2A OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires baseball state playoff action Wednesday in John Day.
This marked the third time the Dufur baseball program had earned a spot to the quarterfinals and it was only the second state playoff victory in school history.
“What this means is we are possibly back on track after a couple of rough weeks here,” said Dufur skipper C.S. Little. “We have had to kind of regain ourselves and whatnot, get back in a rhythm. Obviously, it is a close win, but at this point in time, each win prepares us for our next opponent.”
Down to their last three outs in the top of the seventh inning and trailing 7-6, the Rangers had to play comeback against Grant Union’s all-league reliever, Lane Williams.
Nick Little started things off with a single, but the next two batters made outs, so Little made his way to second base with two down and Parke coming to the plate.
Instead of facing Parke, Williams issued an intentional pass to put the go-ahead run at first base for Bryson Caldwell.
In a wild turn of affairs, Caldwell hit a ground ball to the Prospector shortstop for what should have been the final out, but the throw hit the dirt and skirted away past the first baseman.
On his way to retrieving the ball, the GU first baseman got his foot caught in the fencing and he could not break free.
All the while, Nick Little scampered home safely to tie the game and Parke was right behind with the eventual game-winner.
By the time the dust settled and the ball made it back to the pitcher, Caldwell was at third base.
Staked to a slim one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, Parke got a popup and a groundball putout on a hit to Caldwell at short for the first two outs of the frame.
Grant Union’s final hope was at the dish, and Parke sent a knee-buckling curve into the dirt for a swinging strike.
Kortge, the catcher, grabbed the loose ball and made the tag for the final out.
In a game that featured 17 hits, four lead changes and a tie, the Rangers had the early 1-0 advantage through two and a half innings only to see the Prospectors grab momentum back in the fourth and fifth frames to take a 6-2 lead.
With one out in the top of the sixth, Lane Turner was plunked and Connor Uhalde reached on an error by the Prospector second baseman.
After a botched pickoff move, Turner moved to third, so Parke had two runners on base with his team down four runs.
The senior rifled a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left centerfield to inch the Rangers closer at 6-5.
After Parke’s round tripper, Caldwell reached after being hit by a pitch. With Kortge up, he moved into scoring position on a passed ball.
Kortge blasted a hard drive off the fence for an RBI double to even the scoreboard at 6-apiece.
“That was a huge shot by Jake,” coach Little said. “I was happy for him.”
It was a brand new ball game heading into the bottom of the sixth, as Parke took the hill.
He walked two batters and hit another, and Grant Union was able to scratch across the go-ahead run to lead 7-6, until the crazy seventh frame.
Parke tossed 2 1/3 innings of no-hit ball with a strikeout.
He also walked three and hit a batter.
Offensively, Dufur enjoyed a 10-7 hit advantage over the Prospectors, as Parke went 3 for 3 with two doubles, a home run, four runs scored and three RBIs.
Trever Tibbets went 3 for 4 with two RBIs, and both Kortge and Nathan Duling posted doubles.
“We got some clutch hits from a number of guys,” coach Little said. “They came through at the plate when we needed it. You are going to need that in these state games. Today was a total team effort.”
With this ground-breaking win for the Rangers, they earned a quarterfinals slot and issued a little retribution to the Prospectors after losing a state opener to them last season.
Things don’t get easier for the No. 6-ranked Rangers (23-6 overall), however, as they hit the road for another playoff tilt versus No. 2 Monroe (24-5) on Friday afternoon at a time to be determined.
On Wednesday, the Dragons defeated Union in blowout fashion, 20-2.
“This win gives them confidence for sure,” coach Little said. “Grant Union, we beat them earlier in the year, but they came at us like they had something to prove. They came out with a vengeance and played well today. We had to overcome that. With a little bit of team effort and a little bit of luck, we were able to get into the quarterfinals.”