ANACORTES - For four innings Saturday, May 4, the Granite Falls baseball team had the defending Class 2A state runners-up on the ropes. More specifically, Xavier Denke did.
Denke retired the first 13 Lynden batters he faced during the first round of the 2A District 1/2 Tournament at Volunteer Field, including seven by strikeout, and Tyler Hamilton added a first-inning solo home run for the Tigers.
But cracks started to show with one out in the fifth, when Granite Falls committed the first of five errors over the final two innings, allowing Lynden to tie the game and eventually surge ahead for a 9-2 victory.
"Their kid, he threw a heck of a game today and kept us off balance through five innings," Lynden coach Cory White said. "He threw really well and made us resort back to some fundamental stuff. ... We always preach pitching, solid defense and timely hitting. As I look at the scoreboard right now, we're nine, six and zero (runs, hits and errors), and they're two, six and five, and those five errors killed them. We put it in play and made them make the play on us, and they weren't able to."
Lynden (19-1) moves on to the district semifinals and will face Sedro-Woolley, a team they beat 3-0 on Monday, April 29, for a chance to claim the Northwest Conference title, in a 6 p.m. game on Tuesday, May 7. The winner on Tuesday will lock up a trip to the 2A State Playoffs.
Through the first four innings, it looked like Lynden was going to have to work its way through the consolation bracket for a second straight year.
Denke was simply dealing.
He struck out the side in the first and sandwiched two more strikeouts around a pop up in the second.
In fact none of the first 13 Lynden batters managed to get the ball out of the infield against him.
"It's tough," Lynden senior outfielder Ryan Mouat said. "You've got to mentally stay in it. A lot of our guys, especially me that first at-bat, were striking out and weren't getting on base. It was pretty frustrating. That's just how baseball is. You have to come back that next inning and reset and look for your pitch."
Matt Meyer finally muscled the ball into the outfield for Lynden, and that's when things started to happen.
A two-base error on the play gave the Lions their first base runner and showed they could get to Denke.
"That set the whole tone," Mouat said. "Up until that point, he's been pitching a perfect game. We hadn't even put a dent in their defense. That one little chink just set it off. Maybe it got us in their heads a little bit, and from there we just took off."
One pitch later, Mouat followed with an opposite-field single, allowing Meyer to score and tie the game.
"Ryan's been a kid that didn't get any varsity experience with us last year, but he came to every game and saw what it took for us to have the season we had last year," White said. "He has filled in and done an outstanding job. He's been solid defensively all year for us. He's led our team in walks, so he's getting on base, and he got some big hits again. We try to tell our kids every day it's going to be somebody different. You're going to have a turn to do something to help us win. He did it today, and was a huge spark for us."
Granite Falls managed to rebuild a 2-1 in the top of the sixth with back-to-back doubles by Hamilton and James Barnard, but the sleeping Lion was already starting to stir.
When leadoff batter Peter Bovenkamp reached base on another two-base error, it was only a matter of time before Luke Christianson doubled him in to tie the game. Christianson advanced to third on a passed ball and scooted home on Zach Vis' single to give Lynden the lead.
But things were just getting started.
By the time all the dust had settled on the sixth, the Lions had sent 12 batters to the plate, collected five hits and a walk and turned four Tigers errors into eight runs - seven of which were unearned.
"It was great," Mouat said. "Everybody was yelling and screaming. It's just an atmosphere you can't find anywhere else. It gets you jumping."
Mouat was the only Lion to finish with two hits, as he added a double in the sixth.
Though overshadowed by Denke early, Lynden pitching ace Tanner Olson turned in another strong effort to improve to 8-0. He struck out nine while only walking two and allowed six hits.
"Tanner gritted it out," White said. "He served up the home run, and that put us in a hole a little bit, but we were able to stay back and let our defense pick us up a little bit. Tanner did a great job today."
LYNDEN 9, GRANITE FALLS 2
Granite Falls 100 001 0 - 2 6 5
Lynden 000 018 x - 9 6 0
WP: Tanner Olson (8-0). LP: Xavier Denke. Highlights: Granite Falls: Tyler Hamilton 2-3, 2 R, 2B, HR; James Barnard 1-3, RBI, 2B. Lynden: Luke Christianson 1-4, R, RBI; Matt Meyer 1-3, 2 R, 2 RBI; Ryan Mouat 2-3, R, RBI.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.