Sports, Springfield

Saunders extra-inning walk-off gives Thurston state title

EUGENE – Freshman Grady Saunders had an improbable game-winning play on Saturday at the University of Oregon’s PK Park, scoring on an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the 8th inning to give the Thurston Colts Baseball team its first state title since 2009. Saunders was the lead-off batter for the Colts in the bottom of the 8th, with the score tied 1-1, when he hit a deep ball into center field and sprinted his way to a state championship.

“Right off the bat, I thought it was gone, like over the fence,” Saunders said. “I was just chuggin’. I knew it was going to be at least a double or a triple.”

Saunders’ coach Dennis Minium thought Saunders had hit a home run too.

“When Grady hit that I thought it was gone. Then I saw it short-hop the fence, and then I saw the West Albany kid kind of bobble it. Grady was almost at third and then all of a sudden, (assistant coach) Brandon (Benedick) is waving him in over at third,” Minium said. “That was crazy. That was a crazy ending to a great season by our guys, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The Colts got the ball rolling early as Adam Elliott had a lead-off double in the bottom of the first inning. Maddox Molony, back-to-back Class 5A Player of the Year, then drove in Elliott with a double of his own to put Thurston up 1-0 within minutes.

That would be Thurston’s last run during regulation though, and West Albany scored a run of their own in the top of the 4th inning to tie the game. The game went scoreless after that, with neither team coming close to winning in the 7th, and so it went to extra innings. Thurston got a quick three outs thanks to a double play by Molony, setting up Saunders’ walk-off.

Photo by BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE. The Thurston Colts Baseball team poses with their state championship medals and trophy after the 2-1 win over West Albany.

Thurston also had a stellar showing from sophomore pitcher Connor Molony, who pitched 8 full innings, recorded 3 Ks and allowed only 4 hits. It was a full-circle moment for Connor, who started at pitcher for Thurston on opening night in March at PK Park.

“It wasn’t on my mind until our pitching coach Cason (Cunningham) said something. He said, ‘we started the season with you on the mound at PK Park and we’re ending the season with you on the mound at PK Park,’” Connor said. “It was meant to be. It was meant to happen like that. It shows in what we did today.”

Both Molony brothers, sophomore Connor and senior Maddox, are committed to play college baseball at the University of Oregon. It was a perfect send-off for Maddox.

“I’m obviously excited. I’m happy for my teammates and happy for everyone here,” Maddox said. “Not just myself, this is a great win for everybody and a great way to send off for us seniors.”

Younger brother Connor echoed that sentiment.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Connor said. “I’m gonna miss him. We’ll be going to the same college so I’m gonna see him in the future, but there couldn’t have been a better way to send him off.”

Minium voiced his appreciation for both the Molony brothers, and the seniors in general.

“Connor and Maddox are two of the hardest working kids that we’ve had in our program ever. I couldn’t be more proud of them. But we also lose Easton McDonald. He’s a great kid, I love that kid. We lose Drew White and Drew Blackwell too, both awesome kids,” Minium said. “I’m gonna miss those four seniors. But it really is a great way to send them out for sure.”

Thurston Statistical Leaders: Connor Molony 8 IP, 3 Ks; Grady Saunders 1 hit, 1 run; Adam Elliott 1 hit, 1 run; Maddox Molony 2 hits, 1 RBI.

West Albany Statistical Leaders: Drew Rice 7 IP, 5 Ks; Evan Bliss 1 hit, 1 run; Mason Linton 2 hits; Marcus Allen 1 hit; Kane Damon 1 RBI.

*Catch more coverage and pictures in next week’s edition of The Chronicle.



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