GLADSTONE — Junction City will have at least one grand memory of the high school baseball season, but it won’t be the one they wanted.
The Tigers came up one eruption shy of Volcano Stadium on Tuesday when Gladstone senior pitcher Ben McCoy threw a set of lace handcuffs on Junction City hitters to move the Gladiators into this weekend’s state 4A baseball championship game with a 4-1 victory.
“Lace” handcuffs, because McCoy didn’t exactly imprison the free-swinging Tigers. Junction City touched him for seven hits — the same as the Gladiators got against two Tigers pitchers — and he only struck out four batters, but he got the out he needed when he needed it for the victory.
“You’ve got to give them the credit here,” Junction City coach Tony Stavros said. “Their guy on the hill took command of the game and didn’t let us get into our short game.
“We like to get in motion. I expected us to be a little better at the dish. We got some good counts, but we didn’t really get the hit we needed when we needed it.
“Again, you have to give credit to their guy.”
Gladstone didn’t bomb Tigers starter Damian Carreon Iboa, either. The Gladiators got a run in the first inning on an infield single, a wild pitch and a chopper single that bounced over Junction City third baseman Blake Hayes’ head. The Tigers matched that in the top of the fourth when Hunter Vancurler singled to left and freshman Jaxson Fraser steamed around from second and survived a collision at the plate.
A double play killed the rally, and the Gladiators unlocked the game for good in the bottom of the same inning when they touched Carreon Iboa for three straight singles and two runs. The bought a run’s worth of insurance on Jake Gehrke’s sacrifice fly off Kyle Fuller in the fifth.
The Gladiators (21-8) move on to Saturday’s state championship game against LaGrande at Salem’s Volcano Stadium.
And the Tigers (21-8) will always have Klamath Falls last Saturday, when they scored one of the most dramatic 4A upsets ever with an 11-8 victory over No. 1 Henley.
“I think we were still riding on that high from the Henley game today,” said Tigers senior shortstop Trent Keeler, who was the pitching hero from last Saturday. “We were only the No. 8 seed, so we were pretty relaxed today. I thought we were still in the zone (after two first-inning hits), but he (McCoy) didn’t give us a lot of balls we could hit.
“Yeah, I’ll miss this team. This is the loosest bunch of guys you can find. And we had a lot of fun this year.”