Sports Zone, Springfield

BACK-TO-BACK: Thurston baseball first Class 5A repeat champion

EUGENE – In the 17 years since the Oregon School Activities Association moved from a four-class system to a six-class system, no baseball team in Class 5A had ever won back-to-back titles.

That all changed on Saturday at the University of Oregon’s PK Park as the Thurston Colts claimed their second straight title, with a 2-0 win over No. 4 West Albany.

“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 first inning.

In the top of the first inning sophomore Grady Saunders – starting his fourth 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 first, Adam Elliott led off with a walk, then made it all the way to third base 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 third base. 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.”

KALLIE HANSEL-TENNES / CHRONICLE PHOTO.
Brock Johnson hits a bunt in the bottom of the 1st inning of Thurston’s state title win. Johnson later scored in the inning to give Thurston its second, and final, run of the game.

The ensuing 5½ 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.”

The Colts’ confidence was on display all season, and they needed every drop of it to travel to a place no 5A team has ever gone. The hunger and motivation when chasing a title is all laid out in front of a team. Defending a title – taking everyone’s best shot along the way – takes a different type of hunger.

“We knew that everybody’s gonna give us their best shot, and we had to play our best game every game to beat them,” Saunders said.

Despite getting everyone’s best shot, Thurston still finished the season 28-3 for the second straight year, and ended this year on a 25-game win streak.

“We’re able to handle that – being hunted. Everybody wants to get us, but we can handle those high-intensity games,” said junior Connor Molony, who pitched the full game in last year’s state title win. “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. … It’s a different feeling this time, but this feels even better.”

KALLIE HANSEL-TENNES / CHRONICLE PHOTO.
Junior Connor Molony celebrates after making a key play at first base that ended the top of the 6th inning, and stranded a West Albany runner.

As the Colts close out the celebration of another title, they’ll be favorites heading into next season once again. Only two baseball teams in Oregon history have won three straight state titles, Drain from 1949-51 and West Linn from 2022-24.

While the majority of the team returns next season, 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.”

Left to right, Top row (standing): Assistant Matt Wolf, assistant Cason Cunningham, head coach Dennis Minium, Carson Wolf, Bryson Clifford, Eli Crist, Grady Saunders, Collin Hernandez, Kyle Miller, Luke Blair, athletic trainer Scott Evanson, Tyler Cox, assistant Chase Elliott, assistant Jim Rise, assistant Tony Corgain. Bottom row (kneeling): Adam Elliott, Braden Corgain, Bryson Bowser, David Macdonald, Brock Lundy, Brock Johnson, Connor Molony, Solomon Bernatz, Jackson Lane, bat boy Marcus Smith. Not pictured: assistant Glen Macdonald.

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