Henley proved to be the purveyors of opportunistic baseball Tuesday on the way to a 9-3 win over Astoria in the Class 4A state championship semifinals.
“Coach (Adam Randall) tells us we always need to put pressure on the defense,” senior outfield Jagger Graham said after the second-rated Hornets advanced to the championship finals for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
“The biggest goal today was to get to the next game,” winning pitcher Hayden Rasica said.
The next game is on Saturday against top-rated Banks at Keizer’s Volcanoes Stadium. Game times for Saturday’s game will be determined today by the Oregon School Activities Association.
It will be nothing new for the Hornets.
The last time Henley beat Astoria in the semifinals, Henley went on to win the state championship with a win over Estacada.
For the Henley seniors, returning to the state title test carries some level of redemption since they fell a year ago in the quarterfinals, which ended a string of five straight championship appearances for the Hornets.
“The main goal was to get back (to the finals), and that means the hard work has paid off,” Rasica said.
Rasica had weathered a second-inning Astoria threat.
John Tacchini then drove a home run to the opposite field in the Hornet half of the inning.
In the top of the fourth inning, just after the Fisherman had tied the game at 1-1, play was stopped for 28 minutes during which the field was drenched by a hard rain. Thunder claps could be heard in the area, and there were a couple of lightning bolts.
Rasica escaped again.
Henley promptly regained the lead.
Heith Rasica scored on a Jagger Graham single. Before the inning would end, Jagger would score on a daring base-running effort as the Hornets too a 4-1 lead.
“What I saw was Randall wave, and then stop me,” Graham said. “I took a quick look, saw where the ball was and that the first baseman had no clue where it was and where I was. I just kept running.”
Graham easily slid past the catcher for the run.
After Rasica weathered a fifth-inning storm which included a couple of Henley gaffes, the second-rated Hornets would pull away to make their record 24-4.
“I was never nervous,” Rasica said. “I knew coming in I just wanted to do my job and that we had to make plays. I knew we’d put runs up. I felt pretty good out there.”
He was comfortable with the bat, too, and hit two doubles and single for Henley.
Heith Rasica drilled a long home run over the rightfield wall in the sixth inning, his fourth home run in three state playoff baseball games.
“For the seniors, we wanted the trip again (to Salem),” Graham said. “We may have had some dark times, but we have pulled together.”
■ The only common opponent this season between Henley and Astoria was North Marion, each both teams dropped a game to that foe.
■ Astoria, which entered the playoffs ranked No. 14, had beaten two higher seeded teams to reach the semifinals. The Fisherman saw their season end with a 14-11 record.
■ Tacchini was the only other Henley player with two hits Tuesday.
■ Burke Matthews hit two singles for Astoria, and Jalmer Johnson and Ebin Hillard each hit a double. The visitors had just five hits in the game.
■ Astoria lost two Banks three times this season, 9-3, 8-1 and 10-4.
■ Henley’s other state playoff appearance against Astoria in the last 10 seasons was a 5-3 loss in 2011 when the Fishermen were ranked No. 1.
■ Henley won state championships in 2013 (beat Newport, 12-5), 2014 (beat Sisters, 10-0) and 2016 (beat Estacada, 3-2). The Hornets second in the 2015 (lost to Scappoose) and 2017 (lost to La Grande).
■ In 2017, Henley beat Banks in the semifinals.
■ Saturday’s game will mark the third time in four years the Hornets have met Banks, Astoria and Philomath in the state playoffs.