North Medford had three outs to play with in order to erase a four-run deficit during Friday's state-playoff matchup with Jesuit.
Turns out the Black Tornado didn't need any.
Top-ranked North Medford pulled off an improbable comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning Friday, scoring five runs to stun No. 3-ranked Jesuit 9-8 in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A baseball state playoffs.
The Black Tornado (25-3) will play at Tualatin on Tuesday for the right to play in its first state championship baseball game since 2000. The Timberwolves earned a 6-1 win at West Salem on Friday.
"God must have smiled on us today because I've never seen that," said North Medford coach Brett Wolfe. "I haven't been part of a comeback like that where it just went bang-bang-bang. It's just a tribute to the kids, the players. Coaches can coach, but players play the game."
Billed as one of the top matchups in the state Friday, both teams played up to the hype with clutch efforts up and down the lineup.
The Crusaders (23-7) appeared to have cemented a spot in the semifinals after scoring four runs in the top of the eighth, but North Medford gamely chiseled away at its extra-inning deficit.
"That's going to be a tough one to swallow, but as we talked about at the very beginning, the game's never over until the last pitch is thrown," said Jesuit coach Don Lovell. "You've got to play all 21 (outs) — I guess in this case 24 — and we came up just a little bit short today."
Aaron Marlia got things going in the eighth by catching Jesuit off guard with a bunt toward pitcher Alex Keudell, who had limited North to one hit since entering in the fifth inning. Keudell tried to backhand it but his glove came up empty, and an ensuing throw toward first base sailed high and wide up the right-field line.
With Marlia camped on second base, Zack Earle blasted an RBI triple to bring the Tornado faithful to their feet.
Lovell immediately brought in senior pitcher Michael Lowe to face Shea Bedortha, but the Crusader didn't fare much better as Bedortha smacked an RBI double past recently inserted right fielder Kyle Cusick to make it 8-6.
And just as the buzz died down following Bedortha's blast, Hayden Wolfe put a charge into another Lowe offering for an RBI double of his own to the right-center gap.
The Crusaders actually appeared to catch a break on the play when the sophomore Wolfe tripped and fell rounding first base, but that went for naught moments later as leadoff hitter Darren Bruhns' grounder to shortstop Marshall Yanzick was misplayed. Wolfe left second base on contact and Yanzick opted to try and nab the Tornado at third, but the Crusader third baseman wasn't in place for the throw and Wolfe easily slid under a late tag.
With the tying run now on third and the winning run on first in Bruhns, Lovell brought in reliever Cameron Love to halt the threat. Facing left-handed hitting Jordan Bostwick, Love tried to bust a fastball inside but watched helplessly as it sailed under Bostwick's bunt attempt and to the backstop.
Wolfe smartly scored from third on the passed ball to tie the game at 8-all, while Bruhns caught the Crusaders napping and made his way all the way to third base.
"I saw Hayden was going to score, and as I rounded second base, everybody was focused on the plate and I saw the third baseman standing on the grass with his head kinda down," said the senior catcher. "Then I just turned on the burners and went for it."
That head's up move paid huge dividends moments later as Bostwick sent a towering fly ball to short center field and Bruhns tagged up and beat a wayward throw home for the game winner.
"I was going, no doubt about it," said Bruhns. "Bostwick's a young player, but he's as clutch as they're going to come. He's the ultimate team player, and he did what he had to do there."
Bruhns' crossing of home plate touched off a frenzied celebration by the Black Tornado, and was offset by a bewildered walk off the field by a Jesuit team that did just about everything but win the game.
"We had a 3-0 lead we couldn't hold and a four-run lead we couldn't hold at the end," said Lovell. "That has not been indicative of our team all season. We've been pretty good in those situations, but I guess it was our time."
"All we can do is tip our hat to them," added the coach. "They did a great job and they battled and got some key hits there at the end. It was a great game ... fun to be part of it."
Bruhns, Andrew Jones, Logan Odom and Hayden Wolfe each had two hits to pace North Medford, with Bruhns, Wolfe and Bedortha each scoring twice. Seven different Black Tornado players notched at least one RBI, with Bruhns supplying a key two-run double with two outs in the fourth inning to tie the game at 4-all.
"The definition of our baseball team is a scrappy bunch of scrubs," said Bruhns. "That's what we are. There's no superstars that you read about everyday, it's just like playing with a bunch of brothers. I'm so proud of everyone, I can't even stop smiling."
And neither could his coach, who took on the role of proud papa above baseball guru in the end.
"What you saw there was heart, courage and desire to win," said coach Wolfe. "They just believed they could win right there and went after it and we got it.
"They're the ones that came in and did the job. I just had to wave them in."
Jesuit 310 000 04 — 8 10 2
North Medford 200 200 05 — 9 11 4
Supple, Keudell (5), Lowe (8), Love (8) and Casey; Maurer, S. Bedortha (8) and Bruhns. W — S. Bedortha (8-0). L — Lowe. 2B — J: David, Campbell 2; NM: Bostwick, Bruhns, S. Bedortha, Wolfe. 3B — NM: Earle.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org