SISTERS — Sisters coach Steve Hodges finds his team downright intoxicating.
The passion of his Outlaws, the emotion of the game, knowing his team will make the plays they need to win — it all keeps Hodges young. And on Friday, it kept Sisters’ season alive.
Behind Justin Harrer’s complete-game effort on the mound and with a four-run first inning, the Outlaws endured a couple of delays and put away Newport 8-3 in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state playoffs to advance to the semifinal round for the second straight season.
“This is awesome,” said Sisters catcher Joey Morgan, who drove in two runs for the Outlaws. “We came out here and played great today. Justin pitched his butt off, and we got some key hits when we needed to. It’s great to be going back for the second year in a row.”
Sisters will play at home on Tuesday in its semifinal contest against North Marion of Aurora.
The start of Friday’s quarterfinal matchup was delayed for more than 30 minutes because Newport had bus trouble en route from the Oregon Coast and was late arriving in Central Oregon. Not only that, just after Sisters’ four-run opening frame, thunder boomed overhead, and a mandatory 45-minute lightning delay went into effect.
“I just said, ‘Hey, stay loose,’” Hodges recalled telling his players as they waited out the weather. “I think it was easier for us being ahead 4-1. I think our kids were certainly a lot more confident, a lot more loose.”
Even with the delay, the Outlaws, seeded No. 1 in the 16-team bracket, picked up where they left off.
After No. 9 Newport was shut out in the top of the second inning, Morgan stepped to the plate in the bottom half with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Facing a 3-1 count, Morgan narrowly missed a grand slam to left field. Instead, he settled for a two-run ground-rule double to give the Outlaws (24-4 overall) a 6-1 advantage.
The Cubs (16-9), who reached the state championship last year, plated two runs in the top of the third when Jace Duty smacked a two-run single up the middle.
Sisters got a run back in the bottom of the inning when Ryan Funk drew a bases-loaded walk, and Morgan capitalized on a Newport throwing error in the fifth to tally the final score of the game.
But even with an 8-3 lead heading into the seventh, Morgan conceded that he was not certain of the win. Not until Funk fielded a ground ball at third base and fired to first for the final out of the contest.
“You never know with these games, whether you’re up by 10 (runs) or one, you never know what’s going to happen in the last inning,” said Morgan. “So to get that last out, that was a big relief.”
Morgan finished 2 for 3 at the plate for Sisters, which picked up its 19th straight win over 4A opponents this season. Cody Kreminski went 2 for 2 with an RBI, and Harrer struck out five against just one walk in the complete-game victory.
“There was some pressure,” said Harrer, who last season logged a complete-game win to send the Outlaws to the semifinals. “I think it’s a lot of fun when you’re in that situation. To come out with the win, there’s nothing better. Knowing your team’s behind you and your team’s going to make plays … it’s just a great feeling to go out there and pull out a win as a team.”
Sisters moves on to the semifinals, where the Outlaws fell in 2013. The Outlaws will face No. 4 North Marion, which defeated La Grande 12-3 in another 4A quarterfinal game on Friday.
“For us to be able to have success against these guys,” Hodges said, mentioning how Newport had reached the 4A semis in five of the last seven years, “that is just a tribute to our players.”
“That was just awesome,” Morgan said. “I can’t wait to play Tuesday.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0307, email@example.com .