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MEG WOCHNICK; The Olympian |
YAKIMA – The final out of a 4-3 victory proved to be the longest – and most nerve-wracking – for the Northwest Christian baseball team in its Class 2B state semifinal contest against Asotin on Friday afternoon.
Few would argue that it might be the biggest play in the program’s history.
The Navigators were one out away from clinching their first appearance in a state championship game and had a 4-2 lead.
They had just gotten two quick outs against an Asotin team that defeated them last season in the third/fourth-place game. But the nerves started rattling when NWC starter Nathan Burres gave up a single to Cole Caldwell and a walk to Creighton Alford to put two on with two outs. A passed ball advanced the runners to second and third.
The next batter was Matt Small, and when he hit a single over third baseman Rob Groeschell’s head, Caldwell and Alford sprinted toward home.
Caldwell scored easily to pull Asotin to 4-3, and the Northwest Christian players held their collective breath as Alford rounded third and headed home, trying to tie the score.
“I thought the game was going to be tied,” Navigators coach Don Heinze said. “When it bounced over third, I thought the game was tied.”
Just then, shortstop Tyler Arnold raced to the ball, picked it up and laser-beamed a throw to catcher Preston Turk.
“I saw him (Alford) halfway there, and I saw the ball, and I knew he was out,” Turk said. “As long as I could hold on to the ball.”
Turk tagged out Alford a good 4 feet from home plate for the final out to preserve the win at Parker Field, on the campus of Yakima Valley Community College.
The victory advances the Navigators (23-1) to their first state title game. They will face DeSales at 4 p.m. today at Parker Field.
“This is so exciting,” Heinze said. “I’m so happy for them.”
In the sixth inning against Asotin, freshman Nick Mailhot gave NWC an insurance run with an RBI double to left field that scored Turk, who led off the inning with a walk. That extra run proved to make the difference.
Northwest Christian’s four runs were one more than Alford, Asotin’s ace, had allowed all season. He one-hit DeSales in the teams’ district title game two weeks ago.
But the Navigators made him throw a lot of pitches and were able to connect on his fastball.
Northwest Christian scored its first two runs in the third inning. Groeschell led off with a walk, then stole second base. Cleanup hitter Ryan Heinze, who finished 2-for-3 with two RBI, hit a run-scoring single to right field, driving in Groeschell. Two batters later, Turk drove in Heinze with an RBI single to left.
Heinze added an RBI single in the fifth, driving in Arnold to make it 3-0.
Asotin sent seven batters to the plate in the sixth and scored two runs. Burres gave up two walks in the inning, and Caldwell drove in Small for the second of two sixth-inning runs to close Northwest Christian’s lead at 3-2.
Arnold finished 2-for-3 with a double for the Navigators.
Three of the four teams in the 2B semifinals also were in the 2008 2B state semifinals – Asotin, DeSales and Northwest Christian.
“Only thing I want to do now is not take this for granted,” Burres said. “I don’t want to be satisfied for just getting there. I want to win it.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473