For the majority of nine innings, Storm hitter after Storm hitter trotted back to the dugout in frustration, begging for an explanation to justify his inability to hit Liberty’s pitching.
Squalicum was scoreless from the second inning to the ninth, logging three hits during that span. And catcher Ben Tripp had two of them.
But given how strong the Storm’s defense has been all season, it’s fitting a game-saving defense play and the ability to get out of a bases-loaded jam reignited Squalicum enough for its bats to get going.
Storm outfielder Jack Boysen, who entered the game in the seventh, leadoff the top of the 10th with a single to left. Two batters later the bases were loaded, and senior second baseman Kyle Little got a six-run, 10th-inning rally rolling with a two-run double as Squalicum came away with a 7-1 Class 2A State Tournament third-place game win over Liberty on Saturday, May 30, at Yakima County Stadium.
“We didn’t have real good at-bats in certain situations,” Storm coach John Inge said, “but ultimately we got it done.”
Squalicum (21-7) had to turn around quickly after suffering a state semifinal loss to Selah on Friday afternoon. The team’s third-place finish ends a season in which the Storm qualified for state and won a state regional for the first time in program history.
As Inge pointed out, the third-place trophy wouldn’t be in the Storm’s hands if it weren’t for some brilliant defense work, and arguably no play was as important as center fielder Carter Nickelson’s hustle play in the bottom of the eighth with runners on first and second.
Liberty’s Riley Wingerson hit a single to right-center for what could, and maybe should have, been a walkoff base hit, but Nickelson read the ball well off the bat and flashed his speed to reach the bouncing ball before delivering a strong throw to home plate that forced the potential game-winning run to hold up at third.
“Without Carter’s play, we don’t win that game,” said Connor Sage, who earned the win in relief. “Pretty much kept us in the game. Without him, there isn’t a win. It was a good play. I was nervous when they hit the ball. I was backing up like, ‘Please, stay at third.’”
With the bases loaded and one out, a ground ball followed by a popup got Sage out of the inning and seemingly gave the Storm a shot of much-needed momentum.
Inge praised Liberty’s pitching, especially starter Torey Anderson, who threw seven innings, but Squalicum starter Harper Moore and Sage ended up being more effective.
Moore, who was essentially pitching on one leg after spraining his knee last week during the Storm’s quarterfinal win, threw four innings of one-run, two-hit ball, and Sage ended up tossing six innings of shutout work, only giving up three hits.
“Our two pitchers just pitched their guts out today,” Inge said. “They really did. Harp was pitching on one leg. ... Connor, he was so poised and such a pitcher already, changes speeds so well, moves it in and out.”
Sage certainly provided enough time for Squalicum’s bats to wake up, and they eventually did.
Little’s double put Squalicum in front 3-1. David Stealy followed with a two-run double of his own, and three hitters later J.P. Pacheaco delivered a third two-run double, giving Squalicum a 7-1 advantage.
“We just can’t do it sometimes,” said Tripp of Squalicum’s early hitting struggles. “I guess it’s in our heads sometimes. Once we get it going, we get it going.”
That much was evident.
The win and third-place finish was especially rewarding for Inge and assistant coach Dennis Murry, who have coached the baseball program through some lean times. It also marked the last game for nine seniors, who as freshmen were part of a Squalicum program that had its varsity team go 4-15.
Gathered all together sitting on the grass just outside Yakima County Stadium’s playing field, Inge was adamant about 2015’s success carrying over to next season.
“It’s just amazing making it here,” Tripp said. “Last year not being able to make it to state, and us seniors really wanted this. It’s just an amazing feeling that we got here and got third place.”
Squalicum 7, Liberty 1 (10)
WP: Connor Sage. LP: Boston Munro. Highlights: Liberty: Tyler Hasselman 1-5, RBI; Nick Gunn 1-4; David Rodriguez 0-3, R, 2 BB. Squalicum: Ben Tripp 2-4, 3B, BB; Kyle Little 1-4, 2B, 3 RBI, R; David Stealy 1-4, 2B, BB, 2 RBI; J.P. Pacheaco 1-4, 2B, BB, 2 RBI.