Dave McKae's gamble paid off.
At the suggestion of his players, Mountain View's first-year baseball coach opted not to start ace Alex Robinett on the mound Wednesday in the Cougars' first-round Class 5A state playoff game against Dallas, hoping to save the Intermountain Conference Hybrid pitcher of the year for Friday's quarterfinal round and possibly Tuesday's semifinals.
The move worked as Mountain View topped the visiting Dragons 7-6 behind six strong innings from Jacob Hollister, the Cougars' No. 2 pitcher. An off-speed specialist, Hollister struck out one and walked one while scattering six hits over six innings of work. Robinett earned the save in the game, relieving Hollister one batter into the top of the seventh inning.
“He's a gamer,” McKae said about Hollister, who recorded seven ground ball outs Wednesday. “He wants the ball when the game's on the line. ... He's a quarterback, so he's been in that situation before.”
Hollister kept his cool in the fourth inning when three Mountain View errors helped turn a 1-1 ballgame into a 4-1 Dallas lead. The Cougars (19-6 overall) rallied and tied the game 4-4 in their half of the fourth and Hollister took over from there. The Mountain View junior retired all six batters he faced in the fifth and sixth innings before Cougar catcher Kyler Ayers hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the home team a 7-5 lead.
“We had a couple of errors there (in the fourth), but I knew we'd come back,” said Hollister, whose team will host Sherwood on Friday in a 5A state quarterfinal game.
While Hollister kept the Dragons (12-15) guessing for most of the game, his battery mate, Ayers, provided the big hit the Cougars were lacking during the early innings. Down 0-2 in the count with one out and Sam Peters on first base, Ayers blasted a curveball over the left-field fence for his first home run of the season, giving Mountain View a two-run lead.
“I just wanted to get back up to the plate,” said Ayers, who was hitless in two at-bats and had missed a take sign before his home run. “It's funny. I've been hitting the fence all year in practice. It was a nice time to hit my first homer.”
Trailing 7-5 entering the seventh inning, Dallas went down swinging as Josh Spencer started the inning with a double off Hollister. That led to Robinett taking the mound. The U.S. Military Academy-bound senior retired the three batters he faced in order, although Spencer did score after moving to third on a wild pitch and then coming home on a sacrifice fly by Scott Schepige.
“Our guys know we've got Robinett on hand,” McKae said about the confidence of having Robinett, who hits 90-plus on the radar gun, coming out of the bullpen. “We get one run ahead, we know we can bring Alex in to close it out.”
In addition to Ayers' big hit in the sixth, Peters sparked the Cougars' comeback in the fourth with a two-run double.
A look at other prep action in state tournaments Wednesday:
Redmond softball advanced in the Class 6A playoffs, and Madras advanced in 4A, while Mountain View (5A) and Crook County (4A) lost.
Mountain View advanced in Class 5A, while Sisters' 4A game was postponed until today.