SPOKANE - Bellingham simply proved too tough a nut to crack.
In a rematch of a quarterfinal game two days earlier, the Walla Walla Griz fell to Bellingham, 3-1, Wednesday in the American Legion Class A state baseball championship after failing to produce a run until the final inning of the game.
Both pitchers threw complete games, with Walla Walla's Ryan Kimball striking out 10 and Bellingham's Jake Albert seven.
But, although Albert had less eye-popping numbers, he was the dominant pitcher.
"The difference in the game was their pitcher," Griz coach Ryan Van Dyke said. "Their pitcher had already won a few games at state. He threw his curveball for a strike and was able to follow it up with a change-up. He didn't strike a lot of us out, but he kept us off balance. That was the big difference. He was dominant and he won the tournament MVP."
"Ryan (Kimball) had the bigger numbers, the lower ERA, but when it came down to getting the win we couldn't pull it through for him," Van Dyke said.
A pair of early errors and lack of clutch hitting ended up costing the Griz their chance at a title.
"We gave up a couple errors in the first two innings and they capitalized," Van Dyke said. "We had a couple of guys on bases, bases loaded with two outs, and we just couldn't get that clutch hit to drive runs in."
Bellingham's Alexander Richard led off the bottom of the first with an error in an ominous start to the game.
An out later, Albert, who led Bellingham with a tournament .545 batting average, singled to put runners at first and second. Davis Hampton then drove in Richard with a single of his own before Albert advanced home on a balk to score the winning run. Kimball surrendered another hit, but escaped the inning with a strikeout and a groundout.
The next, and last, Bellingham run came in the bottom of the second.
Kimball struck out the first two batters in the inning before Richard uncorked a double. A single and a walk loaded the bases for Hampton, who singled in an insurance run to cap the rally.
The damage, however, was done in what was otherwise a stalwart outing by Kimball, as neither team scored until Walla Walla pushed a run across in the seventh.
The Griz were only outhit 7-6 at the plate, however, and Walla Walla's best chance to score other than the seventh come in the fourth.
Saloman Arellano hit a two-out single to key the almost-rally. Gavin McEvoy singled and Trever Coronado picked up a base on balls to load the bags, but Albert buckled down to strike out Kyle Barker and end the inning scoreless.
Coronado, who batted .462 for the tournament, was 2-for-2 on the day, with a single, a double and a walk.
His double provided the spark for the Griz's lone run in the seventh. After a strikeout to begin the final frame, Coronado doubled and Barker pushed him to third with a base hit of his own.
Reid Magnaghi picked up an RBI with a sacrifice fly to score Coronado, but a groundout ended the Griz threat and the game.
"I did feel the momentum there," Van Dyke said. "We've been a late-inning team throughout the whole tournament; we've been able to put it together late and give other teams a run for their money."
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Van Dyke was effusive in his praise for the Griz.
"This season, these were the hardest working kids I've ever coached," Van Dyke said. "They had the drive to work and get better every day. It was just will and determination to get to that state championship game."
Walla Walla finished the season 30-15 (3-2 in the tournament).
Bellingham 3, Walla Walla 1
Walla Walla 000 000 1 - 1 6 2
Bellingham 210 000 x - 3 7 3
Kimball and Watilo; Albert and Nichols.
HR - none.
Hits - WWW: Watilo, Arellano, McEvoy, Coronado 2, Barker. Bell: Richard, Fox, Albert, Hampton 2, Nichols, Nickelson.