Levi Jones slammed a first-inning home run, Ryan Cooney went yard in the second and Nelson Keljo made the runs stand up, as No. 1 Jesuit (6-0) shut out No. 2 Lakeridge (5-2), 2-0, on Tuesday evening at Lakeridge.
Keljo, a left hander and the No. 1-rated senior prospect in Oregon; yielded zero hits or runs over 4.1 innings in a pitcher’s duel with Paul Wilson, a left hander and the No. 1-rated junior prospect in Oregon. Ty Alleman threw the last 2.2 innings for the save, and worked out of jams in each of his innings on the mound.
“We needed to be more aggressive at the plate at the beginning of the game,” said Pacer head coach Ray Pearson. “We left probably 9-10 runners on base today, which is something we have to clean up. Overall, I’m super proud of my kids. They battled. We had great defense and good pitching. Jesuit, that’s a great team over there.”
The game marked a homecoming of sorts for Jesuit head coach Colin Griffin, who is credited for turning the Lakeridge program around before he departed for Jesuit in 2014.
“Every game is meaningful when it’s a win,” Griffin said. “Obviously it’s a little different coming back to a place that I love so much. I have a lot of pride seeing how good Lakeridge baseball is, but man for our guys to answer the call and make some big time plays, big time pitches and big time hits for us, it’s so much fun to watch.”
Playing before a packed house and more than 20 professional scouts there to watch the two Oregon State commits pitch, the game featured the power of the 6-5 Wilson, whose fastball reaches into the upper 90s; versus the finesse of the 6-4 Keljo, who sports a low 90s fastball and a curve ball he throws for strikes.
Neither hurler disappointed. Wilson went five innings and gave up just two hits while fanning nine.
Unfortunately for Wilson, the son of former major league pitcher Trevor Wilson; both of the hits he surrendered were home runs. In the top of the first, junior 3B Jones, a lefty swinger, hit a one-out, first-pitch fastball over the fence in left-center. In the top of the second, junior shortstop Cooney hit a two-out 1-0 fastball out to straightaway center field.
“Two pitches,” Pearson said. “He left a couple balls up and ran his pitch counts up.”
The first home run, from Jones, gave Jesuit a massive jolt of energy.
“I know Paul personally and he’s throwing gas,” Jones, another Oregon State recruit, explained. “I tried to go up there and get something out front with the barrel on it. I got lucky and he gave me one. It felt real good. Especially against an arm like that, if he gets going it’s really hard to stop him. The biggest thing was showing our guys we could do it at their house.”
Cooney, an Oregon recruit, almost didn’t play.
“He’s been sick,” Griffin said. “We rested him the day before but he gave me that, ‘I’m ready; play me’ look. You can’t sit a guy who’s a competitor like that. I’m so glad I played him.”
The two dingers would prove to be all Jesuit would need, as the Crusader staff continued its torrid start to the season. In six games, Jesuit has four shutouts, including three in a row; and has given up a total of four runs.
“The pitching staff has put up video game numbers,” Griffin said.
Lakeridge did have its chances, in part because of a shrunken strike zone that benefited both offenses.
In the first inning, senior Zach Johnson drew a two-out walk against Keljo. Wilson then slammed a fast ball on a line right to the right fielder.
In the second, Lakeridge got its leadoff batter aboard on an error, but could not advance a runner beyond first base.
In the fourth, a two-out walk to Alou Dechard went for naught when Gio Streano lined to 1B Noble Meyer for the third out.
Lakeridge’s best chances came in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Keljo was lifted in the bottom of the fifth after he hit Gus Rogers with a 3-2 breaking ball and two outs. Alleman, one of nine juniors on the squad; came on an gave up a bunt single to Tristen Seber, Lakeridge’s first hit of the contest. After Dawson Santana’s fly ball out advanced both runners, Mason Utech walked on four pitches, loaded the bases for Johnson. The senior second baseman took a fastball inside for ball one before hitting a comebacker to Alleman to close the inning.
In the sixth, Lakeridge put runners at first and second with two outs, thanks to a five-pitch walk to Streano and Beau Spiekerman’s infield single. Alleman again escaped damage when Rogers grounded to the second baseman for the third out.
In the seventh, after Eric Hoffberg had come on in relief of Wilson and tossed two scoreless frames to give Lakeridge a shot, the Pacers put two on base with just one out, courtesy of walks to Santana and Utech. Johnson tried to bunt for a base hit, and came tantalizingly close on his first effort, which was just foul. Johnson eventually struck out and Wilson popped to the pitcher, ending the threat and the game.
Wilson, the pitcher, showed everyone why he should be a top 10 pick in the 2023 draft. After giving up the first-inning jack, he walked three to load the bases, but showed his grit by punching out two to escape without further damage. After Cooney took him out in the second, Wilson retired the next eight batters, with five strike outs, before Cooney and Jones walked back-to-back in the fifth. Wilson then got a double play ball to get out of the jam.
Keljo also showed up big on the mound.
“Nelson did awesome,” Griffin said. “He had a lot of pressure with the scouts evaluating him. He answered the call and did what he was capable of. I’m really proud of him.”
Mark June 4 on your calendars. That’s the day of the 6A state championship game. Baseball is so unpredictable, but we could see not only a rematch of Jesuit versus Lakeridge, but also a reprise of the pitcher’s duel between Keljo and Wilson that we got today.
“We hope so,” Pearson said. “We’re going to take it game by game and see what happens.”