The Astoria baseball team will be challenged in the state playoffs. Eventually. Maybe. Then again ...
Astoria's 24th win in a row looked pretty much like the last 23: Hit home runs, build a big lead, send in the subs.
That was the story again Tuesday at Aiken Field, where the South Umpqua Lancers were the only team that left achin' following Astoria's 9-0 win in a Class 4A state playoff contest.
The Fishermen advance to the quarterfinals, where they will play at Hidden Valley Friday.
Tuesday was a mixed day for the North Coast teams. Warrenton won but Seaside lost (see stories on Page 7)
For Astoria, Matt Brause and Nick Bredleau combined on an "oh-by-the-way" no-hitter, as Brause worked 52?3 innings, striking out 10. Bredleau retired one batter on one pitch in the sixth inning, then retired the Lancers in order in the seventh.
South Umpqua's only base runner was Ryan Smedley, who was hit by a pitch in the third inning. Smedley reached third on an error, but Brause struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
Brause had thrown 64 pitches before he gave way to Bredleau.
"That's about 10 more pitches than a bullpen session," said Astoria pitching coach Ralph Steinback. "He was just real good, real efficient today."
Brause's catcher, Brendan Landwehr, said, "He's been working real hard since the beginning of the season to get where he is now. I really appreciate his work, because he does a great job out there.
"He takes my pitch-calling pretty seriously, and he'll usually go with what I call."
Other than a ground-out in the first inning and the hit batter, Brause struck out eight of the first 10 batters he faced, including the first two batters on three pitches each.
Again, not much work for the Astoria infielders or outfielders.
"Actually I don't like it like that very much," said Astoria third baseman Joey Dursse, who made several stellar defensive plays, in addition to his three hits. "But whatever's good for the team. Everybody out there on the field wants to have the ball at all times. That's what makes us such a good defensive team.
"But it's also good when our pitchers can throw a no-no like that, too."
Offensively, it took the Fishermen an inning or two to catch up to the curve ball of South Umpqua starter Roby Smith, who did not give up a hit until Dursse's two-out single in the second inning.
But it was a one-out single by Brent Culver in the third that set the wheels in motion.
Tom Jaworski reached on a bunt and Culver scored on the third of four South Umpqua errors in the game.
In the bottom of the fourth, Jordan Poyer picked up where they left off, as he delivered a Smith pitch over the left field fence for a home run.
After a ground-out, Dursse, Mason Brause and Hans Lund all reached on base hits, and Culver drew a bases-loaded walk to force in Dursse.
One out later, Matt Brause helped his cause with a two-run single that scored his little brother, along with Lund. Culver scored on an error later in the inning.
Astoria added an insurance run in the fifth on Dursse's run-scoring single, and Landwehr closed the book on the Lancers with a two-run homer in the sixth.
"Usually it takes us at least once through to get a guy timed, but it was a little tough with his curve ball," Landwehr said. "We haven't seen something like that in a while.
"After the second or third time through, we had him down to where we could hit opposite field."
Believe it or not, the Fishermen had some incentive for the early round game.
After undefeated league seasons in football and soccer - only to suffer first-round playoff losses in both sports - the Fishermen wanted no part of another heart-breaking, early-round loss.
"We talk about it a lot actually, about how we need to finish, and how we can't overlook anybody," said Dursse, who played football.
"In football, we had already played La Salle, so it wasn't too big a deal," he said. "We had already beaten them and we thought we'd get 'em again easy. We can't underestimate anybody. I think we learned from that, and the soccer guys, too."
Meanwhile, Hidden Valley is coming off consecutive state playoff wins over Philomath (14-4) and Gladstone (6-1).
"Hidden Valley has been a surprise ... there will be some good matchups," Landwehr said. "Anything can happen in the playoffs."
Added Dursse, "it doesn't really matter to us, either way. We just need to be on top of our game, and I think we can take a lot of good teams."
Before coming to Astoria, Fishermen assistant coach Ryker Thornton spent several years at Warrenton, when the Warriors were (and always are) in contention.
"It's real comparable to the '99 team, when we had (Brian) Bruney and seniors at every position," Thornton said. "We're a senior-laden team that knows how to win. Not many holes in the lineup ... none, really. We haven't found any yet.
"I think these kids have that sense of 'the time is now, so seize the moment.' I think that's what they're doing right now."