By Norm Maves Jr., OSAA contributor
KEIZER — What began nine or 10 years ago in the quiet, pastoral back roads, nut farms and fruit orchards around western Washington County came full circle in the high school baseball capital of Oregon Saturday morning.
An especially gifted class athletic senior class from Banks High School slammed the door on scrappy Henley of Klamath Falls for a 3-1 victory and the championship of the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 4A baseball playoffs.
And that completed it. The trifecta. The Braves added this year’s baseball title to the basketball and football championships they won earlier in the school year to become the first Oregon team to pull the trick since North Valley of Grants Pass did it in 1984-85.
It was mostly the same kids from the same class of 2019, moving from sport to sport as the year progressed, changing only the shoes and uniforms of the season.
On Saturday, there were six seniors in the starting lineup: Hayden Vandehey, Dakota Bunn, Blake Gobel, Thomas Cook, Tyler Lilly and Trask Applegate.
“This has been going on since the second or third grade,” said first baseman Gobel, who drove in the Braves’ second run in the first inning — and who was the state 4A basketball player of the year. “We’ve been through everything together.
“We figured we’d be good. But we never thought we’d pull this off. To pull this trifecta off, well, nobody saw this coming.”
Coach Joe Baumgartner might have seen it when he took the baseball job last year. He retired from coaching at nearby Forest Grove in 2009, but as a favor to some friends took the freshman basketball job at Banks four years ago.
“One of the guys I coached was this guy,” he said, pointing to Vandehey. “When the AD (Ben Buchanan) talked to me about the baseball job last year, I was thinking, ‘Hey, I’d have some pretty good athletes coming.’”
Those athletes altered the way Baumgartner — and most baseball coaches — approach the teaching process of the game. He knows he has athletic talent — with all that suggests — everywhere he looked.
“I teach a lot,” he said, “but most coaches worry about situations on the field. I don’t worry that much with this team out there. I don’t make that many mound trips, I just trust them to do the right thing.”
On Saturday morning, they did. The Hornets (24-5), who year in and year out are as good a 4A baseball program as there is in the state, got the jump on the Braves with a first-inning run.
They arrived to play, and announced it when leadoff hitter Andrew Reynolds hit a routine ground ball to left on the first pitch of the game, then stretched it into a double with an aggressive turn at first.
Blake Loney drove him in with a ground ball to the right side. Game on.
But the Braves (27-3) bounced back immediately — with two out against Hornet right-hander Dylan Fitts. Colten Hesselman walked, moved up on a wild pitch and scored when Bunn drove a single to right field.
Bunn went to second on a balk, then scored when Gobel smashed another single up the middle.
That was all the Braves would need. Vandehey, who went the distance on the mound, moved his modest stuff all over the strike zone and spread seven hits around. He only struck out one Hornet, but he also got two double plays and some force-outs at just the right time.
One more run for the Braves on a balk call in the second inning and the scoring was done. But not the excellence.
The final out went to a junior — yeah, they have them at Banks. Second baseman Jarred Evans took Heith Rasica’s ground ball and flipped it to Gobel at first.
Hats, gloves and Braves went up into the air all at the same time. They’d done it.
The Hornets had a pair of hitters get two hits off Vandehey: Trevor Rote and Jagger Graham.
“Those guys,” said a thoughtful Vandehey, drinking it all in, “are my brothers. We’ve worked hard all the time, but no, we haven’t thought of this. We’ve tried to keep it tamped down. We couldn’t let that thought get in the way.”
When did the Braves allow themselves to think of the trifecta? “After the game,” Vandehey said.
In the three championships they won this year, the Braves went 65-7 — 27-3 each in basketball and baseball and 11-1 in football.
Vandehey allowed that the Braves seniors have always moved together as a pack, on and off the fields.
When you’ve accomplished what they’ve accomplished, anywhere they want.