Sports Zone, Springfield

Colts advance, set up finals rematch

SPRINGFIELD – After rolling through the first two rounds of the Class 5A playoffs, the Thurston Colts baseball team had yet to be truly tested this postseason. That changed Tuesday though, as the 2nd-ranked Colts held a narrow 3-2 lead on No. 3 Ridgeview midway through the 3rd inning of their semifinal matchup. With two on and one out in the bottom of the inning, up stepped junior Connor Molony, who cracked a line-drive home run to left field, extending Thurston’s lead to 6-2.

“We kind of lost momentum there in the third inning, they scored a run to make it 3-2. Then to turn around and have that three run homer – all the momentum just shifted back to us,” Thurston coach Dennis Minium said. “(Connor) had been needing one all year, and he finally got a hold of one. It was the perfect time for it, so we got the momentum back and at that point we were rolling.”

Molony chose the perfect time for his first home run of the season, and Thurston cruised the rest of the game, winning 7-3 to advance back to the state title game as the team attempts to repeat as champs.

PIERRE WEIL / THE CHRONICLE. Molony looks back at the dugout and cheers as he rounds 1st base after hitting a 3-run home run in Thurston’s semifinal win.

Sophomore Grady Saunders got his third start in as many playoff games for the Colts, who took an early 3-0 lead after the 1st inning thanks in part to an RBI-single from David Macdonald. Minium pulled Saunders after only 2 innings to put in Collin Hernandez, an ace pitcher himself this season.

Hernandez struggled though, walking three runners and allowing an RBI-single. With the bases loaded and 1 out in the 3rd inning, Minium decided to throw Saunders back on the mound – with Ridgeview’s next batter grounding into a double play to end the half-inning.

“We needed to get out of that inning, and that guy had already homered. We were talking to Grady saying, ‘Hey, if we get in a situation, would you be willing to come back again?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I want this game. If you gotta use me, use me,’” Minium said. “He stayed fresh, and he got the outs. After that we decided to go to Kyle (Miller) at that point, but it was big on Grady.”

Saunders has now pitched 11.2 innings in three playoff games, and has recorded 17 Ks while allowing only 4 hits.

“He’s the one that’s been coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, I want the ball.’ And when the state pitcher of the year comes to you and says he wants the ball, you gotta give him the ball,” Minium said. “He’s a beast, and he’s got that bulldog mentality. He didn’t want to let the team down, didn’t want to let anybody down, and said, ‘I’m good for a couple innings. Let’s get a lead and get me out of there.’”

Miller entered on the mound for the Colts against Ridgeview and pitched the last 4 innings, striking out 5 and allowing only 2 hits as Thurston closed out the game and advanced back to the championship game – where they’ll face a familiar foe in West Albany.

Last season, the 2nd-ranked Colts took down No. 4 West Albany 2-1 in the state title game at the University of Oregon’s PK Park. This season, the matchup is the same – down to the rankings and location.

“We’ve been looking (at them). It’s kind of ironic, right? We were the two-seed last year, they were the four-seed last year, and now it’s that again,” Minium said. “We’re going to come out with our best foot forward and try to get a win.”

The 5A state title game is this Saturday, June 1, with the first pitch scheduled for noon. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students, and can be purchased at



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos