While the regular season has come to an end for the Cottage Grove baseball team, it is (as of this printing) unclear if the Lions will be playing in the postseason.
Three losses in the final week of the season – to Marist on Tuesday and twice to Junction City on Friday – kept the Lions out of an automatic spot reserved for the top-two teams in league. Now, the team, currently ranked 20th by the OSAA, is left scoreboard watching as they are right on the bubble to be one of eight teams in the play-in games.
“We don’t really know if we’re in the playoffs or not which is a hard situation when it could be your last game and talking to the seniors. OK, we might, we will practice Monday just in case we’re in,” said Cottage Grove head coach Dan Geiszler after Friday’s games.
Facing fifth-ranked Junction City (13-2 Sky-Em, 19-4) on Friday, a team that had already locked up first in league, the Lions were looking for a win to improve their playoff chances. And in game one – a 5-4 eight inning loss – they almost had it.
In the early innings, the Tigers were making good contact and the team scored a run in each of the first four innings. It looked like the Lions had changed their fortunes in the fifth inning when it appeared junior Gavin Sowa blasted a ball over the left field wall for a two-run home run but instead the hit was called foul.
After Geiszler and the ump got into a heated exchange Sowa went back to the plate where he again had great contact and this time hit a triple that scored teammate Wyatt Sayles to put the Lions on the board. In the sixth inning, Cottage Grove had the bases loaded with two outs but were unable to score a run.
With the season hanging in the balance, the Lions entered the seventh inning trailing by three runs. Sayles got things going with a single to left and was promptly scored off a hit from Walker Humphrey. Senior Jayden Lydick was walked and junior Iverson Bascue was up to the plate with his team trailing by two, with two on and two outs. Bascue then proceeded to hit a timely double to left that tied up the game.
“We broke through with two outs and Iverson came up with a huge double with two outs,” said Geiszler. “We just made things happen and scored some runs. That was good to see, for sure. We weren’t going to give up.”
Cottage Grove senior Conner Browning came in to pitch during the bottom of the seventh. Junction City loaded the bases with two outs but Browning came up big with a strikeout to push the game to extra innings.
In extras, Cottage Grove went three-up three-down while the Tigers were looking to break free.
“We’re tough, we grind at the plate. We grind every at bat and there’s never an easy-out in our lineup and eventually that gets to pitchers,” said Junction City head coach Tony Stavros. With the bases loaded, a Junction City short fly to right dropped and scored the game winning run to give the Tigers the first game.
The Lions finished the first game with nine hits. Bascue, Sowa and Sayles each had a pair.
Heading into the second game, the Lions struggled to respond.
“It’s tough to come back from circumstances of the first game. We battled and had a couple, one big call that didn’t go our way, that ultimately would have won the game. That’s just a hard thing psychologically to come back from,” said Geiszler. “And when they’re better than you to start with, it makes it 10 times harder. We battled so hard that first game and really played pretty well. So it’s difficult to come back from that.”
In game two, the Tigers were up 3-0 heading into the third inning when they then exploded for seven more runs. As Cottage Grove struggled to get on base – finishing with one hit – Junction City continued to pour it on as they added eight runs against the defeated Lions in an 18-0 win.
“We came out and it was a game for three innings and then all of a sudden the wheels fell off and they got up. And I think your morale goes down and you’ve been out here and you’ve expended all this energy and it’s just all these things combined,” said Geiszler. “ I, obviously, wish that wouldn’t happen and that you would come out and compete but it’s understandable. It is. Maybe not acceptable, but understandable. That’s tough.”
While Junction City got the win, Stavros felt his team was lucky to take both game one of the day and the first game when the teams met.
“(Cottage Grove) has the best coach in the league and he’s been that way for years. For what he does with what he’s had the last couple years is, I mean, I don’t know if people realize that. His kids play hard and they always do the right thing,” said Stavros. “So we knew they were going to be ready today and they were. Combination of us being a little bit flat and Dan having his guys ready to go and battling and not giving up, you know, we were lucky to escape with the first one.”