As left fielder Jake Allen squeezed the final out, the Celtics’ dugout emptied onto the field in a wave of blue, crashing on top of Jordan Araiza at the pitcher’s mound.
The bodies piled up as the celebration crescendoed for No. 25 McNary’s 6-5 upset win against South Salem on Wednesday in the second round of the OSAA State Championship playoffs.
And much of the credit for that win was at the bottom of that dog pile.
Araiza threw 4.1 hitless innings in relief, and scored the winning run in the top of the seventh with some heads up baserunning.
“I knew I had people behind me,” Araiza said. “I just had to come out, throw strikes, get some outs. I have great players all behind me. That’s all I need. That’s all I knew.”
He entered the game as things began looking bleak for McNary. South Salem had the bases loaded with two outs in the second inning. Three runs had already come across, making it a 3-1 game in favor of the No. 9 seed.
After walking the first two batters he faced, bringing home two more Saxons to make it a 5-1 game, things looked like they could get really out of hand.
“Jordan’s a guy that just likes to get up there and it’s his tempo and we kind of let him go, but maybe in some situations he needs to kind of step back, take a deep breath,” McNary head coach Larry Keeker said. “Especially when that first time he was out there, the adrenaline’s just going and he’s hucking balls to the wall.”
And settle down he did. Araiza retired nine straight after the Saxon’s scored their fifth run, only allowing two batters to reach base the rest of the game.
In the top of the seventh, Araiza gave the Celts the lead. He walked to lead the inning off, and was sacrificed over to second.
With two down, South Salem pitcher Noah Scharer threw a ball in the dirt that catcher Teagan Scott blocked. Araiza read the ball in the dirt, and took a long secondary lead. He said he hesitated to the left (back to the bag) because he knew Scott was going to throw down. Scott did, and Araiza broke for third.
Scott’s throw was low, and bounced off of second baseman Jackson Buckingham’s glove and into center field, giving Araiza the opportunity to get home ahead of the tag and make it a 6-5 game.
From there Araiza sat the Saxons down in order in the bottom of the seventh, and found himself beneath his celebrating teammates.
Maybe he had something to prove. His first two at-bats, Araiza came to the plate with the bases loaded, and McNary came away with one run total in the two innings.
“I had a little bit more in me,” Araiza said. “I wanted it more. I had to make up for it somewhere.”
Araiza’s performance and the game itself seemed to mirror McNary’s season. A slow, rough start, mixed with a refusal to pack it in, finished off with high energy and effort leading to some wins.
At one point in the season they had dropped nine straight, and sat at 2-13, fresh off a sweep from these same Saxons.
A three-game sweep of West Salem got the season moving in the right direction, and secured them a postseason berth. They dropped three games to conference champion Sprague, but won the final three games of the season, and headed into the playoffs with momentum.
According to Keeker, the theme for the team this season is “brotherhood.”
“We were certainly tested in that area because it was just a lot of rough games,” Keeker said. “So when your spirits take a hit, that brotherhood’s kind of tested, but to these guys’ credit, we finally had a little success. And then once that success happens a couple times in a row, then your confidence level goes up and again, you guys start believing again. And here we are.”
They were tested again on Wednesday.
Facing a 5-1 deficit after the second inning, things certainly could have gone sideways in the dugout. But the success from the past week kept the Celts’ heads in the game, and confidence high.
“We knew we were to come back right away,” Araiza said. “We have a great team one through nine. We’re a threat. We just need to keep battling. Just don’t get our heads down.”
They tied the game with three runs in the fourth inning after loading the bases for the third time in the game. Ground outs from Noah Fisher and Anthony Cepeda brought in runs, and then Jesiah Bartlett came across with the tying run after an error on a ground ball from Jake Allen.
But things certainly don’t get easier from here after knocking out the No. 8 and No, 9 seeds. On Friday, McNary travels to No. 1 West Linn for the quarterfinals.
West Linn hasn’t allowed a run in their two post season games, and McNary was ther back in April, a 12-1 loss.
“Their pitching staff is really, really good,” Keeker said. “They’ve been one of the better teams in the state of Oregon for a long time now. We’re very familiar with the program. We seem to play them like every year. We weren’t at full strength when we played those guys. And we didn’t play well on top of it all. But again, all that’s in the past and everything’s in front of us, so we’re going to have to play well to beat that team.”
First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. at West Linn High School.