Sports Zone, Springfield

Colts roll into third-straight quarterfinals

SPRINGFIELD – The 2nd-ranked Thurston Colts baseball team cruised into their third-straight quarterfinals with a 10-0, 5-inning victory over No. 15 Central in the 1st round of the Class 5A playoffs. After leading 1-0 midway through the 4th inning, the Colts blew the game wide open with a 9-run 4th inning.

“It seems like sometimes it takes us one time through the order to get that feeling for the pitcher. But I tell you what, the second time through the order, we can be very, very dangerous,” Thurston coach Dennis Minium said. “Practice this week has been a little bit different, more focused, and with a sense of purpose. They know what’s in front of them, and they have a goal. I feel like after today, watching them play, I think they can do it.”

Junior Connor Molony had a single, a 3-run double, and scored twice in the inning. Kyle Miller chipped in a 3-run double as well.

“Our energy was crazy. The adrenaline going through everybody’s body was top level. That’s the thing I love about baseball, is innings like that where everybody is just hitting,” Molony said. “Everybody was on point, and the dugout was rowdy. No crickets happening there. It’s the energy that made us score all those runs in that fourth.”

Sophomore Grady Saunders got the start on the mound, pitching all 5 innings and striking out 7 while allowing only 1 hit. Saunders made it through the game in only 50 pitches, meaning Thurston can use Saunders again on Friday if needed.

“(Grady) was dialed in from the time he got here at around 1:40 in the afternoon. He was dialed in; he knew he had a job to do. Anytime he’s on the mound, you feel like as long as we score three or four runs, we’ll be in a pretty good spot,” Minium said. “Today, our offense helped him out a little bit more, and we were able to end the game in five, which gives Grady an opportunity to maybe come back on Friday. You never know until we get to Friday what we’re going to do.”

PIERRE WEIL / THE CHRONICLE. Saunders slings one if his 50 pitches during Thurston’s 10-0 win over Central. Saunders threw 7 Ks and allowed only 1 hit during the win.

The Colts, the defending 5A champs, advanced to their third straight quarterfinals with the win and will host No. 7 Mountain View (18-9) on Friday at 5 p.m. With Saunders’ low pitch count, Minium has whatever combo he wants available to throw at Mountain View.

“We’re gonna get Mountain View, and we know they have an arm. I like our chances. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Collin (Hernandez) and Kyle (Miller) are really, really good pitchers,” Minium said. “We’ll have to give it a couple of nights and figure out what we’re gonna do and see how Grady bounces back. We’ll see if there’s a chance, and maybe he closes on Friday. … We can’t go wrong with any decision that we make.”

Thurston is attempting to be the first back-to-back Class 5A state champions since OSAA adopted a six-class format for the 2006-07 season (there were only four classes from 1991-2006). To repeat as champs, Thurston needs to handle the pressure of having a target on its back every game – every team wants to be the one that ends the defending champs season.

“They’re doing really well. The beginning of practice this week, on Sunday and Monday, they were dialed in and ready to go. They know they have a huge target on their backs, but they’re not taking anything for granted,” Minium said of how the team’s handling the pressure. “I feel like we’re in a good spot, as long as we don’t beat ourselves. Last year we talked about first to 4 runs. So it’s first to 4 again, win every inning –  it’s the same old stuff over and over. But if it works, and they believe in that stuff, then we’re gonna keep rolling with it.”

Tickets for the quarterfinal game can be purchased online osaa.org/shop/tickets. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students.

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