KEIZER - With the talent the Grant Union High School baseball team puts on the field every season, as exemplified by eight straight Greater Oregon League championships followed by three straight Wapiti League titles, the Prospectors have the potential to win it all every year.
The Prospectors were state champions in 1990 and again in 1992 and in the past decade, Grant Union has come close losing in 2001 to The Dalles for the Class 3A championship and in 2003 falling to Regis in the 2A title game.
In 2005 Grant Union fielded a talented, senior-laden team and aspirations for another successful season were evident right from the time the first pitch was thrown against against Oakland in the opening game of the Icebreaker Tournament on March 18. Just as it is every season, the Prospectors' philosophy is to be league champions and move on from there.
On June 4 all the long hours of practice and sacrifice paid off as Grant Union captured the Class 2A/1A state championship with a 9-2 victory over Salem Academy at Volcanoes Stadium to finish the year undefeated at 31-0 and give Art Thunell his third state championship in his final game as the Prospectors' head coach.
What a way to go!
The Prospectors knew going into the game that the task was not going to be an easy one - they had to face the Salem Academy Crusaders, who had defeated defending state champion Santiam Christian 5-3 on May 31 to reach the title game.
Salem Academy, with a 23-3-1 record, was no newcomer to state competition, having played for the title in 2001 against Regis and 2002 against Umpqua Valley Christian.
"Our plan this year was to play all the top teams in the state during the season," Salem Academy coach Tim Halfman said. "We did that and it's paid huge dividends for us. It was a big thing for us knocking off the defending state champions, no question about that."
Halfman said Salem Academy has a very young team and the kids went out this season and competed with the best.
"This is our third trip here (to the state tournament) in the past five years and it's a lot of fun," he said.
The Crusaders were a tight group of players and didn't want to talk too much prior to the start of the game, but were ready to go up against the Prospectors, who entered the championship game as the No. 1-ranked team in the state.
"I feel good," starting pitcher Brian Johnson said. "It was a big win for us beating Santiam Christian. I'm happy to be here."
"I'm pleased to be here," first baseman Brad Childs said. "I feel loose and I'm ready to go."
If anything, the deck was stacked in favor of the Prospectors even before the first pitch was thrown when Grant Union's own Judy Schuette sang the National Anthem and once the game began, it was evident this would be the Prospectors' day.
Starting pitcher Kerry Ashmead got through the top of the first inning despite a two-out error, and in the bottom of the first, Grant Union went to work.
Eli McClure, celebrating his 18th birthday, lined the first pitch he saw from Johnson in the right-centerfield gap for a standup double and the Prospectors were off and running.
McClure advanced to third on a wild pitch and tallied Grant Union's first run of the game when Crusader's third baseman Cameron Meier booted a hot shot off the bat of Joel Silva.
Ashmead gave up a leadoff walk to Kip Patterson to open the second inning, but then fanned Kelly Hall, Dan Filipenko and Ian Stipe in order to put the Prospectors right back at bat.
In the bottom of the second, Ashmead singled to open the inning and Travis Heiple followed with a perfect sacrifice bunt.
After Cody Powell flied out to right field, Trey Mascall drew a walk and McClure banged out his second double of the game to plate Ashmead with the Pros' second run.
"It was great, it felt good," McClure said. "It was good to end coach's career with a 31-0 season and the state championship."
Ashmead suffered control problems over his four innings of work on the mound and in the third inning, the Crusaders narrowed the margin to 2-1.
Meier singled with one out and Brett Patterson and Johnson drew back-to-back walks to load the bases.
After getting Dan Horner to pop out to second base Ashmead was nearly out of trouble, but uncorked a wild pitch which allowed Meier to score from third.
Patterson walked to load the bases once again, but Hall was called out on strikes to end the inning.
"My control comes and goes sometimes," Ashmead, who gave up four walks and threw five wild pitches, said. "I was glad Toby (Thomas) was able to come in the fifth inning and shut them down pretty good. He was great and I was glad we were able to come through."
The Prospectors got some breathing room in the bottom of the third when Bo Thunell reached second base on a throwing error, advanced to third on Toby Thomas's fly ball to center field and scored on Adam Kowing's infield out to make the score 3-1.
A lead off double by Heiple combined with a sacrifice bunt by Powell and Mascall's infield out upped the lead to 4-1 at the end of four innings of play.
Grant Union laid down three perfectly-executed sacrifice bunts in the game, each of which led to a run being scored.
"We played a lot of small ball today, something we haven't done much of this season," coach Thunell said. "We ran the bases pretty good and we had two or three contact plays where we had runners on third base and were able to get pretty good jumps on ground balls. We didn't run or bunt much during the season because we didn't have to. A lot of the runs we scored during our league games came in bunches. Today, in this game, we ran the bases and bunted well. Now the kids understand why we work on bunting in practice."
Salem Academy cut the lead to 4-2 in the top of the fifth inning when Meier reached base on an error and advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches.
After Brett Patterson walked, Thomas replaced Ashmead on the mound.
"Kerry pitched a great game against Glide in the semis, but he lost a little confidence out there today," Thunell said. "We could have started either Kerry or (Toby) Thomas. Over the years, Toby has been a great relief pitcher for us."
Thomas fanned Johnson for the first out before giving up a run-scoring single to Horner. He then got Patterson on a foul pop up to first base and Hall flew out to right field to end the threat.
Grant Union blew the game wide open in the bottom of the fifth sending 10 batters to the plate scoring four runs.
Sliva led off with a walk and Thunell was hit with a pitch to put runners on first and second.
Thomas then dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners up and Adam Kowing followed with a two-run single to make the score 6-2.
"It's been a lot of work this year, but its been worth it," Kowing, who had three RBI in the game, said.
Ashmead then doubled down the left field line sending Kowing to third and Childs replaced Johnson on the mound for the Crusaders.
Childs walked Heiple to load the bases and Kowing came home with the third run on a passed ball.
Cody Powell struck out and so did Mascall, but a dropped third strike allowed Ashmead to score with the fourth run of the inning.
Grant Union's final run of the game came in the bottom of the sixth when Zach DeRosier, who was running for Kowing, scored all the way from first base on a two-out Ashmead double.
Thomas continued his strong performance on the mound facing the minimum number of batters in the sixth and seventh innings, striking out the final four batters to seal the victory and give Grant Union the 2005 Class 2A/1A state baseball championship.
Thomas and Ashmead combined to strike out a total of nine batters while giving up just three hits.
Every member on the roster played an integral part in this year's championship season, including some who didn't get a lot of time on the field.
Players such as senior Aaron Kienzle, who has been in the Grant Union baseball program for four years.
"I just did what ever I could to help out," he said.
Ashmead was 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two runs scored, and McClure was 2-for-3 with two doubles.
"It was a great way to end the season," Mascall said.