Sports Zone, Springfield

Party on: Colts open title defense by crushing early playoff opponents

SPRINGFIELD – The Thurston Colts baseball team is attempting something that’s never been done before – winning back-to-back Class 5A state baseball championships. After two commanding, 5-inning victories last week, the Colts are only two games away from achieving that feat.

“They’re focused right now. They know they can do something that nobody else has done, and it’s two wins away, so it’s pretty cool,” Thurston coach Dennis Minium said. “We’re fortunate enough to be one of 20 teams left that get to practice over Memorial Day weekend, and it’s pretty cool. It’s a special group of kids that are dialed in and ready to go.”

Thurston, ranked No. 2 in the bracket for the second straight season, rolled into its third straight quarterfinals with a 10-0, 5-inning victory over No. 15 Central in the first round last Tuesday. After leading 1-0 midway through the 4th inning, the Colts blew open the game with a 9-run 4th inning.

“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,” said Thurston junior Connor Molony, who finished the Central win with 2 hits, 2 runs, and 3 RBI. “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 and allowing only 1 hit. Saunders made it through the game in only 50 pitches, meaning Thurston was able to use Saunders again on Friday as a starter. He came back on Friday and finished with 5 Ks in 4 innings, allowing only 2 hits against No. 7 Mountain View.

“(Grady) did a hell of a job today. Our whole intention wasn’t to start him today, but he came to us at practice and said, ‘I want the ball. I want to start,’” Minium said. “So when he tells you that you’re gonna roll with him. And we kept him at 56 pitches, so he’s got an extra day to rest now.”

PIERRE WEIL / THE CHRONICLE. Saunders throws a pitch during Thurston’s win over Central.

The Colts jumped on Mountain View early in Friday’s quarterfinals, scoring 4 runs in both the 2nd and 3rd innings en route to an 11-0, 5-inning win. Thurston knocked out Mountain View’s starting pitcher after only 1.2 innings, though Minium said the team was surprised when Mountain View didn’t start its ace.

Thurston’s dominance is apparent compared to the other playoff matchups. The Colts average margin of victory is 10.5 runs; the rest of the Class 5A bracket’s average margin is 3.4 runs. Additionally, Thurston has the only two run-rule wins in the entire bracket – all of this while being the team everyone wants to beat.

“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.

Thurston is attempting to be the first back-to-back Class 5A state champs since OSAA adopted a six-class format for the 2006-07 season (there were only four classes from 1991-2006).

“I love the pressure. Pressure makes diamonds. I love the pressure, and everybody on the team loves the pressure. We want to be that team that everyone wants to beat,” Molony said. 

Minium said Molony, the reigning 5A pitcher of the year, has been throwing in practice after an injury on opening night has kept him from pitching all season, so “you never know what happens next week,” he said.



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