BLAINE - Before this week, the Mount Baker baseball team had not played in the postseason during the Northwest Conference era (since 2007).
Year in, year out, the Mountaineers found themselves taking lumps against bigger schools with storied baseball traditions as one of the smallest 2A schools in the state. Now a 1A school after reclassification, they're making the most of their playoff opportunity.
"It's an interesting league, because you've got some horses, and it's tough going against those good 2A teams during the year," Mount Baker coach Quinn LeSage said. "But it prepares you for the postseason. These guys are just now realizing that they can compete and they can play in the postseason. They're starting to believe, which can be scary - scary good."
After not playing a playoff game of any kind for more than six seasons, the Mountaineers suddenly find themselves just one win away from qualifying for the Class 1A State Playoffs for the first time since 2004.
And most importantly they're doing it the Baker way with plenty of grit and determination.
Mount Baker scratched and clawed its way to a second postseason victory in as many days, getting 21 base runners and a scrappy pitching performance from Nick Larson to come from behind twice to beat Friday Harbor 8-4 in the 1A Northwest District Tournament semifinals on Thursday, May 2, at Blaine's Pipeline Fields.
With the win, the Mountaineers (9-13) move on to face Meridian for the district championship and an automatic berth into the state playoffs. The 4 p.m. title game will be held Saturday, May 4, at Pipeline.
"It's exciting," said Larson, who reached base all four times he came to the plate on Thursday, including three times by walk. "I'm pumped. This team deserves it."
They certainly deserved it with their approach at the plate on Thursday.
Mount Baker faced Friday Harbor and starter Brandon Lambright just five days earlier and realized they had an opportunity to take advantage of some control issues.
"We told our guys before the game to be patient," LeSage said. "We wanted them to work him deep in counts and hit mistakes when they made them. It's always a good thing to get as many base runners as you can."
The Mountaineers ended up getting an entire legion of base runners against a trio of Wolverine pitchers.
Yes, they collected 10 hits by nine different players - Jacob Marr's 2-for-5 outing was the only multi-hit performance for the Mountaineers - but they also drew seven walks, a batter hit by pitch and put three other runners aboard by error.
"We knew they were kind of wild coming out of the gate," Larson said. "We took our pitches. I got three walks. I just wanted to get on base."
Larson also allowed his share of base runners in the game, as he surrendered 10 hits and a pair of walks, but with the exception of one run in the first inning and three runs in the fourth - two of which were unearned - he was able to keep the Wolverines off the scoreboard.
"He's not overpowering, but he mixes speeds," LeSage said of Larson. "He throws off-speed and fastball counts, which is huge. ... He's a senior who has been in big situations, and that's what he did for us. He put us in position to win."
He was never better than in the sixth inning, when he retired the side on three pitches.
"I've never even seen a three-pitch inning before, myself," Larson said. "I was stoked."
All three outs were recorded by Titus Balvanz in centerfield, and two of them were on beautiful catches.
"Titus always says, 'Give me fly balls,' and I give him fly balls," Larson said.
After Friday Harbor jumped out to a 1-0 lead, Mount Baker came back in the top of the second with Colton Ranson's bases-loaded walk and an RBI groundout by Balvanz.
Friday Harbor's three-run fourth put the Mountaineers back in a 4-3 hole, but Balvanz drove in Kaleb Brownfield with a tying run in the top of the fourth with another ground out, before Brownfield knocked in Larson with the go-ahead run in the fifth and Seth Bass followed him home on a Wolverines error.
"The last couple of days, this team has shown me that we don't give in, ever," LeSage said. "We've had a couple of situations, we were down one run against South Whidbey, and we put up a nine-spot in the sixth. We went down after a bunch of errors, today, and we came back. If you can do that and not fold up your tent, that's important in the playoffs. You can't push the panic button, and you've got to compete for all seven innings. If you do, you've got a good shot to win it."
The name of Friday Harbor's pitcher was corrected May 3, 2013.
MOUNT BAKER 8, FRIDAY HARBOR 4
Mount Baker 020 122 1 - 8 10 4
Friday Harbor 100 300 0 - 4 10 4
WP: Nick Larson. LP: Gabe Lawson. Highlights: Mount Baker: Titus Balvanz 1-4, 2 RBI; Jacob Marr 2-5, Tyrel Cronk 1-3, 2B; Nick Larson 1-1, 3 R, RBI, 2B, Kaleb Brownfield 1-3, 2 R, RBI.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.