Nooksack Valley’s postseason momentum nearly pushed it to a state bracket-busting win on Saturday afternoon.
Taking the Montesano Bulldogs as far as they could go, the Pioneers saw their season come to an end in a heartbreaking 2-1, eight-inning loss in the state 1A baseball regionals at Castle Rock High School on Saturday.
Nooksack Valley’s season, extended by timely wins in the Bi-District I-II tournament to get to the title game and to regionals, comes to an end at 8-16.
Montesano (22-3), the third-ranked 1A team in the state according to the Washington State Baseball poll, lost to Evergreen 1A League rival Hoquiam, 8-7, in nine innings in the regional title game later in the day.
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“That was a tough loss,” Nooksack Valley head coach Scott Gelwicks said. “I was a little surprised we didn’t hit a little better today. All of these games are going to be close. You either win or lose one-run games. I felt we were competitive against the bigger teams in the regular season, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. We sorta did that in districts. This is a tough one.”
A two-out infield single by Noah Rawls turned into the tying run when a throwing error forced by Taylor Gardner running past third base in the bottom of the sixth.
Montesano second baseman Nick Chapman made a rolling stop up the middle on Rawls’ grounder with two runners on. Gardner, running on contact from second, rounded third and stopped one-third of the way down the line.
Chapman saw Gardner running and threw an off-balanced ball toward home plate that escaped catcher Jordan Bussard. Gardner easily scored, with Curtis Handy taking third on the throw.
Montesano starting pitcher Riley Olsen got out of the inning with the bases loaded when Bussard threw out Handy, who took too large of a lead, at third.
Rawls, who came in in relief of Pioneer starter Ryan Gelwicks in the sixth inning, ushered in extra innings with a quick seventh inning. Olsen was unthreatened in the bottom of the frame, with the Bulldogs using a “hidden ball trick” to remove Nooksack Valley’s lone baserunner at second.
In the eighth, a lead-off single by Bussard came back to bite Rawls. With two outs and Bussard at second, Jake Herzog’s RBI double to left-center field plated the winning run.
Olsen completed the game with a 1-2-3 eighth.
“I liked our chances, truly,” coach Gelwicks added. “The pitchers were ready to go. I thought we had the tenacity to win ballgames. I thought, with good pitching, if we scored a couple of runs, we wouldn’t have any problems. We just couldn’t squeak out any runs.”
Ryan Gelwicks and Olsen engaged in a classic pitcher’s duel in the first five innings.
The senior left-hander gave up just two hits in his five innings of work, but left with a 1-0 deficit after a passed ball scored the Bulldogs’ first run in the fourth inning.
“Ryan has thrown in some of our toughest games this season, so I didn’t have any reservations throwing him out there today,” coach Gelwick said. “I felt pretty good about our chances running him out there.”
Olsen was only threatened in the sixth inning by the Pioneers and limited them to five scattered hits. The senior struck out 11 and walked two for the complete-game victory.
Montesano 2, Nooksack Valley 1 (8)
WP: Riley Olsen. LP: Ryan Gelwicks. Highlights: Nooksack Valley: Taylor Gardner 2-4, R; Curtis Handy 1-2; Noah Rawls 1-2; Tanner Myhre 1-2.