La Grande won its second 4A title since 2017, and avenged last year’s crushing loss to Hidden Valley, by dominating the Mustangs, 10-1, at the weather-delayed OSAA / OnPoint Community Credit Union Baseball State Championships Tuesday afternoon at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
That La Grande (28-1) won was not surprising.
How the Tigers won certainly was.
La Grande scored 10 runs against a Hidden Valley team that yielded just 43 runs in 29 games all season coming into the contest; a Hidden Valley team that had outscored opponents 175-5 during its active 13-game winning streak; a Hidden Valley team that had outscored three playoff opponents, 34-1.
La Grande prevailed by getting a dominating performance on the mound from junior Jace Schow, one of four hurlers head coach Parker McKinley was considering before the game.
Schow struck out 11 and walked only one over six innings of work. Using a three-pitch mix, including a devastating change up, he had Hidden Valley hitters off balance the entire game. The Mustangs’ 2-3-4 hitters finished 0-for-8 with eight strike outs. The only Hidden Valley run scored on a balk.
La Grande prevailed thanks to “professional” at-bats – deep counts and using the whole field. And the Tigers responsible for building the lead came from the middle and bottom of the lineup. Nick Bornstedt had three hits and three RBIs from the 5-hole. Braden Carson, batting seventh, was 1-for-2 with two runs batted in. Garrett Armstrong, hitting eighth, had two doubles and three RBIs.
“That’s the way our lineup’s been,” noted Tiger head coach Parker McKinley. “Everyone knows if it’s not their day they have a teammate to pick them up. That’s what makes the team so special. They all trust each other and play for each other.”
The win was sweet revenge for a Tiger team that was on the verge of winning last year’s culminating week state tournament. La Grande led 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh last year versus this same Hidden Valley team, before Isaac Hill walked them off with a gut wrenching grand slam.
“I think we had fire in our bellies from last year, which really made us play our game,” Schow said.
La Grande came into the game red hot, riding a 23-game winning streak, during which the Tigers had outscored their opponents 283-21.
On paper, La Grande looked as dominant as Hidden Valley. On paper, this game looked to be a barn burner between the two best teams in 4A. What wasn’t clear, however, was whether the game would be a high-scoring thriller between dynamic offenses or a low-scoring nail biter between outstanding pitching staffs.
It was neither, as La Grande asserted itself from the start and never allowed Hidden Valley any momentum.
The Tigers set the tone for the game with two runs in the top of the first inning. Hill, who started on the mound for Hidden Valley, struggled to find the strike zone for the Mustangs. Two walks and two wild pitches put runners at second and third with no outs.
Hill settled down and struck out the Tigers’ two most dangerous hitters, but he could not get out of the inning unscathed. Bornstedt, one of 12 seniors on La Grande's team, stepped to the plate and smacked Hill's first offering into right on a line, plating two runs.
One pitch later, a breaking ball strike to senior CF Cesar Rodriguez, Hill's pitching day was done.. After the delivery, he summoned the Mustang coaching staff to the mound, said he felt pain in his right elbow, and was replaced by Nate Vidlak, who struck out Rodriguez to retire the side.
Hidden Valley halved La Grande’s advantage in the bottom of the second. The Mustangs put two on with one out, courtesy of singles from Nolan Kennedy and AJ Elzy. A wild pitch and balk allowed the HV to plate one, but Rodriguez was able to track down 1B Luke Matthew’s sharp line drive to center to prevent further damage.
The rest of the game was all La Grande. The Tigers were just relentless on offense. They scored one in the third and one in the fourth before breaking the game wide open with five in the top of the fifth. After one was out in the decisive half-inning, Hidden Valley’s next six batters reached base, on two walks, three singles, including one from Carson that drove home two; two walks and Armstrong’s ground-rule double that plated another two.
All those runs were a boon for Schow.
“Most of the credit goes to my team putting up 10 runs for me, making it nice and easy,” he said.
Schow said he found out he was going to be the guy 10 minutes before the team walked into the locker room. He admitted to being unnerved by the news, but said, “Once I got on the field and my teammates were behind my back I knew that I could do it.”
“Jace is really good,” McKinley said. “We knew if he felt good that he was going to be a really good option for us. We knew that his off speed would be really difficult so it turned out well.”
Hidden Valley finished with seven hits, two each from Vidlak and Elzy.
“I want to give credit to La Grande,” said Hidden Valley head coach Mark Vidlak. “I think they played really great today. I thought their pitcher was on point today. I want to tip my hat to them. They played really well. We didn’t play good enough today.”
The Mustangs finished 27-3 on the year and were 45-3 over the past two seasons, with a 4A state-record 29-game winning streak.
“It’s really hard to get here,” Coach Vidlak said. “I’m really proud of our kids. Not just this year but last year as well. These guys have been with me since they were eight years old. I’m proud of the kids and their careers. They’ve done some really special things.”
After the game, La Grande and OSAA conducted a special ceremony on the field to award diplomas to 12 seniors, including three valedictorians; who missed their graduation day on Saturday. They were traveling to play in the championship game, which was postponed by inclement weather and poor field conditions, until Tuesday.
The smiles said it was all worth it, as the players received their high school displomas while crossing home plate one last time.
"I have so much respect for the 4A level of baseball in the state," McKinley said. "There are so many great coaches and so many great people. The community around 4A baseball is just tremendous. We just want to be one of the teams that competes through that."
In 2022, La Grande didn't just compete; the Tigers were second to none.