South Umpqua captured its first state title in 43 years, defeating Santiam Christian, 10-2, for the 3A title Friday afternoon at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer at the OSAA / OnPoint Community Credit Union Baseball State Championships.
The Lancers (25-5) used a relentless offense, sparked by senior shortstop Kade Johnson; and rode pinpoint pitching by his cousin, junior Jace Johnson; to the dominating win. South Umpqua got hits from six players, runs from six and RBIs from five in an impressive offensive performance that did not relent from the team’s first at bats to its last.
South Umpqua dedicated the win to Brody Standley, a freshman at the school who passed away this semester after living for 15 years after being born with half a heart.
“He played football for us, which is amazing,” said Steve Stebbins, who is both the football and baseball head coach at South Umpqua, which is located in Myrtle Creek south of Roseburg. “He was going to play baseball, too, but went into the hospital midway through the semester and we lost him. We pack his football jersey around and have been playing for him.”
“The kid would have loved to be here,” said Kade Johnson, a four-year starter and the team’s leader. “It was a tragedy that he wasn’t. We’re just thankful we could do it for him and his family.”
“Brody’s been our angel looking down on us,” Stebbins said. “This is for him and for us.”
Santiam Christian, the designated away team, appeared primed to match South Umpqua hit for hit and run for run, when the Eagles put two runners on with no outs in the top of the first. Senior Ely Kennel, an Oregon State recruit, led off with a sharp line drive that the SU leftfielder mishandled for an error. Jadon Roth followed with a soft single down the left field line and Santiam Christian was in business. A sacrifice moved both into scoring position, but Jace Johnson got a huge strike out of Camden Carley for the second out and a nice play from Kade Johnson, who charged a soft bouncer and threw out Jacob Yenchik, to escape without damage.
Having survived the top of the first, South Umpqua jumped on Santiam Christian in the bottom of the frame. The Lancers not only threatened to score; they Lancers made good on the threats to the tune of three runs on four hits. Andrew Camp led off by piping a ball over the left fielder’s head for a double. Kade Johnson, who finished 4-for-4 with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs; followed by beating out an infield hit to third, with Camp taking third on the throw. Johnson then stole second to put two in scoring position with no out. Jace Johnson’s RBI ground out scored Camp. Kade Johnson scored on DH Jordan Stevenson’s fly ball double. Stevenson then came around on Ever Lamm’s line drive single to right center.
South Umpqua would have all the runs it would need, but the Lancers did not stop. They put up two more in the second and piled on with single tallies in the fourth and fifth and a three-spot in the sixth that brought the possibility of the 10-run rule into play.
“They’re a great club,” Stebbins said. “We felt like if we could keep Ely from hurting us real bad that we could be all right, as long as we did our thing offensively, and we did more than our thing offensively. It was a great job by our guys.”
Santiam Christian responded to South Umpqua’s first three runs by striking for one in the top of the second. Jackson Risinger led off by inducing a walk on a full count. With one out, a sharp single through the left side from DH Andrew Haase put the Eagles in business with runners at the corners and one out. Devon Fitzpatrick, attempting a safety squeeze, actually beat the throw to first for a bunt single and RBI. Kennel then walked on 3-2 to prolong the threat, loading the bases with one out.
That’s where the rally died, however, as Roth was called out on strikes for intentionally taking a pitch in the strike zone to the elbow, and Kadon Haugen popped to the second baseman.
“It was really scary,” Jace Johnson said. “I was able to get some key outs and I knew we were good to go after that. We put up runs and I was able to work with that the whole game.”
“Jace made it interesting the first two innings but settled down,” Stebbins said.
South Umpqua answered Santiam Christian’s run immediately by getting two runs on two hits and a walk in the bottom of the second inning. Angel Chavez led off with a sharp single to left and was sacrificed to second. Camp then drew a walk, ending Carley’s day on the mound. Roth came on and was greeted by Kade Johnson, who drove a first-pitch fastball deep to left-center for an RBI. Jace Johnson’s second RBI groundout in as many innings, on an 0-2 count, made it 5-1 Lancers after two.
“We gave them opportunities but did a good job fighting through those,” Stebbins explained. “We jumped on them offensively. When you score five after the first two, you control them a little bit and feel good about it.”
Jace Johnson pitched into the seventh inning, striking out seven while yielding eight hits. He quelled a threat in the fifth and allowed only one more run, a home run by Kennel, his ninth of the year, to deep left center leading off the seventh.
Meanwhile, South Umpqua continued to score.
Roth, who helped settle Santiam Christian down by retiring seven in a row after Kade Johnson’s first double, pitched in bad luck in the fourth, when Camp and Kade Johnson doubled back-to-back with two outs. Camp’s sharply hit ball to left may have been lost in the sky by the left fielder, because it was misplayed. Kade Johnson’s second double of the game was to the same spot as his first.
One inning later, Stevenson pounded ball over the wall in right for a home run, his second of the year.
South Umpqua’s healthy 7-1 lead with two innings to play grew to 10-1 when the Lancers put up three more in the bottom of the sixth. Pinch runner Brendan Gosselin, running for Brayden Reedy, who walked; reached third with no out on an errant pickoff attempt. He scored on Chavez’ sac fly. As the inning continued, Kade Johnson delivered an RBI triple to right, his fourth hit of the game, which scored Louden Cole, who was hit by a pitch. Jace Johnson’s RBI single followed, getting the Lancers into double digits in the run column.
Jace Johnson finished with a hit and three RBIs for South Umpqua, which also got two hits and two RBIs from Stevenson and two hits and three runs scored from Camp. But the star of the show and the Lancers’ Moda Health Player of the Game, was Kade Johnson, who was a perfect 4-for-4 with three extra base hits, two runs scored and three driven in.
“He’s been a starter since he was a freshman and came up big in the biggest game,” Stebbins said. “He’s our best guy and had a great day today.”
“It was awesome,” Kade Johnson said. “I came out to try to do a job for our team and that’s what I did. We got away with a pretty good victory.”
Kade Johnson said that he knew his team would win from the moment he entered Volcanoes Stadium.
“I felt a good vibe,” he explained. “I thought if we jumped on them early that we could have them and that’s what we did.”
Haase had two hits to lead Santiam Christian (20-9). Kennel had just one hit, but hit the ball sharply twice and walked, and he made several notable plays on defense from his shortstop position.
“Losing is never fun, but at the end of the day we gave it our all,” he said. “I thought we got everything out of each other. We played hard and for each other. I wouldn’t change anything. I think we all grew a lot this season.”
One final note: South Umpqua had to hit the road quickly after the presentation of medals and the blue trophy. For 10 seniors, graduation is tonight.
“The kids get to wear their medallions across the stage tonight,” Stebbins said.
“They passed the test.”