Neah-Kah-Nie has returned to the state baseball playoffs after a 21-year absence and just two years removed from a winless season.
By Brad Mosher
The Pirates earned the Northwest League’s second playoff berth Wednesday with an 8-1 victory over Vernonia at the NWL playoffs at Pacific University in Forest Grove.
Vernonia made it into the showdown with the second-place Pirates by defeating Nestucca 6-2 in the earlier playoff game.
The Loggers were not able to find their offense with Bryce Bridge on the mound for the Pirates. Vernonia had a 2-1 record against Neah-Kah-Nie during league play, but they couldn’t find the way past the Pirate’s sophomore hurler.
Although he got off to a rocky start, giving up two walks to start the game, Bridge was able to shut out the Loggers for most of the game. It wasn’t until the top of the sixth inning that Vernonia finally got on the scoreboard.
That only slightly cut into the 5-0 lead Neah-Kah-Nie had built up in the first five innings.
But three more Pirate runs in the sixth inning all but buried the Loggers’ flickering hopes for a state playoff berth.
In the top of the seventh inning, Vernonia was unable to mount a threat as Bridge sealed up the win.
Rebounding from 0-21 season
It is quite a change from two years ago when coach Rob Herder took over a program that had just finished a winless 2014 season.
“It is quite a change,” he agreed, after the game, the celebration and all-league awards had been handed out.
“Two years ago when I first started playing catch with some of these guys, they couldn’t return the ball because they couldn’t catch it.
“Where we are now, we are playing what I call really good baseball. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Whether they were a starter or coming off the bench today (Wednesday), they were all prepared,” the coach said.
In some ways, it wasn’t a typical Bridge-pitched game, according to Herder. “He typically averages about a walk a game. That makes it tough on our opponents to really string things together when you have to put hits together to score on us,” he said. “But, he always seems to elevate his game against the toughest hitters. When we have Bryce on the mound, we find that we can manage the game. Rarely do we give up a big inning, like three runs or more than that.
“It gives our defense confidence. A lot of the time, he (Bridge) pitches to contact, so our defense really comes to play,” the coach added. “… and they did today.”
The windy conditions Wednesday played a factor in the game, especially with long fly balls hit to the outfield, the coach said.
“We had a couple of deep fly balls that looked like they were easily going to go over the head of our outfielders. You could tell just by their approach. They took off on a sprint, then saw that the ball was hanging up and had to come back. They made a routine catch look really hard,” Herder said with a smile.
Looking ahead to the state playoffs is something new, Herder said. “We were such hyper-focused on the two teams we had in front of us today (Nestucca or Vernonia). We took a lot of notes and the coaches got the kids prepared and put together a game plan.
“And our kids were able to execute that today,” the coach added.
The team earned its first day off of the season (Thursday),” said Herder. Actually, only the players got the day off, as Herder and the coaching staff change their focus to playing in the first round of the state playoffs.
Coach sees road trip change
Herder said it is still up in the air with the other leagues as to what teams will qualify. “We will probably be playing a pretty good team,” the coach said, adding that will not be anything new for his team. They finished second in the NWL to the defending state champions and they played much bigger programs in a long road trip to an Arizona national-level baseball tournament.
“You have to be pretty darn good to get in. I mean it is 16 teams left in the state with almost 50 in the state 2A classification.
“We know that we are in for a tall task, but all year long we have played teams that were a tall task for us,” he added.
The Arizona trip didn’t bring a win to the Pirates’ record, but the coach said it helped prepare the team to play against better and tougher programs. “We are ready. We are as ready as we’ll ever be,” Herder added.