Sports Zone, Springfield

BACK-TO-BACK: Thurston blanks West Albany, wins second-straight title

EUGENE – The Thurston Colts baseball team claimed back-to-back Class 5A state titles on Saturday with a shutout, 2-0 win over No. 4 West Albany at the University of Oregon’s PK Park. The 2nd-ranked Colts became the first 5A baseball team to win back-to-back titles, and only the 15th school in Oregon baseball history to achieve such a feat.

“It’s pretty special. The kids worked really hard all offseason. They had a goal to accomplish, they bought in, and they competed against everybody,” said Thurston coach Dennis Minium. “They knew they had a target on their backs, but they play better that way. I can’t say enough about our group of kids.”

In a rematch of last season’s state title game – with both teams ranked the same as in 2023 – the Colts got a wire-to-wire win as they scored both runs of the game in the bottom of the 1st inning.

PIERRE WEIL / THE CHRONICLE. Thurston’s Grady Saunders throws a pitch during the team’s 2-0 state championship win over West Albany on Saturday. Saunders pitched 6.1 innings in his 4th-straight postseason start, allowing only 3 hits and holding West Albany scoreless as the Colts won back-to-back state titles.

In the top of the 1st inning sophomore Grady Saunders – starting his 4th-straight playoff game – allowed a single and hit a batter with a pitch, but Thurston’s infield picked up a key double play to end the half-inning.

In the bottom of the 1st, Adam Elliott led off with a walk, then made it all the way to 3rd on Brock Johnson’s bunt. Senior Eli Crist then had a pop-out to right field, allowing Elliott to score and Johnson to advance to 3rd. Saunders came up to bat next and hit an RBI-single to drive in Johnson in what would be the final run of the game.

“I’m so happy. We had a talk before this game about leaving a legacy, and I think we did that,” Saunders said. “We probably should have played a little better, just like last year, but we got the job done, so I’m super excited.”

PIERRE WEIL / THE CHRONICLE. Elliott slides safely into home during the bottom of the 1st inning.

The ensuing 5 ½ innings were a defensive battle as Saunders finished with 6.1 IP, 4 Ks, and only 3 hits allowed. Meanwhile, West Albany’s Lukas Hews pitched 6 innings, had 5 Ks, and allowed only 5 hits.

“Coming into this game we knew West Albany, they’re dogs. They’re gonna compete and we knew they were coming for us,” Elliott said. “We knew we had to live up to that and compete with that. I’m just super proud of our guys. All the way throughout the playoffs we’ve been rolling, and we had so much confidence, so it was great.”

Saunders entered the top of the 7th to try and close the game out, but hit the high school max pitch count of 110 with only one out, so Thurston brought in Crist from 3rd base to close. The Colts got their second out on an infield ground ball, and West Albany’s Andrew Yost popped one to third base – directly into Saunders’ glove – to end the ball game and give Thurston its second-consecutive state title.

“It’s pretty crazy. To win it once is great, but to win twice is legendary. We are that team that got to go back-to-back,” said junior Connor Molony, who pitched the full game in last year’s state title win. “It’s a crazy feeling, not only to win it one year, but then to win it again. It’s a different feeling this time, but this feels even better.”

PIERRE WEIL / THE CHRONICLE. Molony stretches out to make a play at 1st during Thurston’s 2-0 state championship win.

Thurston finished the season 28-3 for the second straight season, and ended this year on a 25-game win streak. Crist, Elliott, and fellow senior Bryson Clifford all bid farewell to a program they left a massive mark on.

“It’s pretty special. They’ve worked hard, they’ve been bought in, they’ve done their jobs, and they’re good teammates,” Minium said of the senior trio. “They helped build our program. They help the younger kids, and I wouldn’t want any other way for them to go out than with this.”

Catch the full state title coverage, with images, stories, and much more, in next week’s edition of The Chronicle, out June 6.

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