Bad breaks end Blue Devils hardball season

The tying run makes it to second in Wa-Hi's 4-3 loss to Auburn-Riverside in the state tournament.

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YAKIMA - When you reach the final 16 in the state 4A baseball playoffs, there is no room for bad breaks.

Wa-Hi saw its magical run in the final 16, and its season, end on a drizzly Saturday at Yakima County Stadium, as Auburn-Riverside hung on to defeat the Blue Devils, 4-3.

Under the category of what might have been, the Ravens got two of their four runs on bad breaks that struck the Blue Devils.

In the Raven second, Mike Rucker's sacrifice bunt into the wet infield grass was thrown away, allowing Rucker to reach base and keep the Raven inning alive. The Ravens' Austin Marty would drill a double off the left field wall that would score Cam Boardway, who ran for Rucker, and culminate a Raven three-run inning and produce a 3-0 lead.

In the fourth, Marty's infield pop dropped untouched, and Nick Minteer's second hit of the game plated Marty with what proved to be the fourth and decisive Raven run. Riverside grabbed a 4-0 lead heading to the home fourth.

"The throw away was weather-oriented, as it was really raining at that time," said Blue Devil coach Keith Gradwohl. "The pop up was miscommunication. Both of those ended up being influential."

And there are no second chances. Wa-Hi would battle back and leave the tying run at second in their final at bat, but the Ravens moved on to face Richland, a 5-4 winner over Ferris in 10 innings to open the Regional, for a berth in the Class 4A final four.

"We told them (the players) it was going to be like that," Gradwohl said. "It's going to be the little things and who plays best."

Down 4-0, Kevin Toon led off the Wa-Hi fourth with an eight-pitch at bat that Toon won with a single to left. A wild pitch and a passed ball got Toon to third. Michael Pontarolo drove a single to right to score Toon and get the Blue Devils on the board.

Moe Handcox beat out a bunt with one out in the Wa-Hi fifth. Jake Jimenez drove one off the left field fence at the 365 foot mark, and Handcox scooted home to make it 4-2 Ravens after five.

With one out in the seventh, Hancox lined his third single of the game to left, then Jimenez came through again. The senior third baseman drove a ball to the right center gap, his third hit and second double of the game, and Handcox raced home from first to make it 4-3 Ravens with one out and Jimenez, the tying run, at second.

"We battled back once again," Gradwohl said of the Blue Devil rally from down 4-0. "The second time through (the line up), we started getting on (Raven pitcher Rucker) a little better."

But in the seventh, Rucker, a junior right-hander, was up to the task. He struck out the last two Blue Devil hitters to finish with 10 strikeouts and leave that tying run 180 feet away.

"That kid can pitch," Gradwohl said of Rucker. "We got nine hits off him. We'll see him in Division I before it's all said and done."

On the mound for the Blue Devils, senior Jake Campeau pitched through the steady early rain and got better as the game went on.

Campeau only allowed one Raven hit over the last three innings.

"Campeau kept us in there," Gradwohl said. "He just battled."

Wa-Hi, with 12 seniors on the roster, finishes at 20-7 and with the Blue Devils' first Regional appearance since 1991.

"They are extremely disappointed," Gradwohl said. "They're going to be disappointed for a while, but then they are going to sit back and think about the road we were on all spring. It was a real fun ride."

The class of 2011 legacy includes an outright Columbia Basin Big Nine 4A regular-season championship, three consecutive wins over perennial power Richland, a sub-regional championship and the march to the final 16.

"These kids are great kids," Gradwohl said. "Those seniors were a quality, quality group.

"I know these guys (the seniors) really well and they know me," Gradwohl said. "That's the hardest part. They saw themselves as state champions and we didn't quite make it to the final four, but they're gamers. I really liked them. They're going to be missed big time."

Auburn-Riverside 4, Wa-Hi 3

A-R 030 100 0 - 4 8 1

Wa-Hi 000 110 1 _ 3 9 2

Rucker and Sherwin; Campeau and Holbrook.

Hits - A-R: Minteel 2, Maples 2, Marty 2, Sherwin, Grad. Wa-Hi: Jimenez 3, Handcox 3, Toon, Pontarolo, Campeau.

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