When Northwest Christian’s Nick Mailhot hit the game-winning, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning to drive in Ryan Heinze and Kyle Tracht, it gave the Navigators their first state baseball title with a wild 11-10 victory over DeSales on Saturday in Yakima.
Not only will they be remembered for winning the Class 2B state title, but they’ll also be remembered for how they won it.
On the biggest stage of their lives, they came through with two victories that came down to the final out.
Hollywood movie-type endings rarely happen in sports. But in Northwest Christian’s case, it happened twice.
Sports are all about reality. Granted, the games are scheduled in advance, but the outcome is never the same. The players and coaches this weekend didn’t put on acts, they showed true emotion. No one could’ve predicted the outcomes, let alone how the games would end. But yet, the Navigators won two down-to-the-wire games with finishes you’d see on the big screen.
In NWC’s state semifinal win against Asotin on Friday, it was done with defense.
The Navigators led 4-2 with Asotin coming to bat in the top of the seventh inning. With two on and one out, the Panthers’ Matt Small hit a single over Rob Groeschell’s head that led to one run. And as the second runner, Creighton Alford, was rounding third and trying to score, shortstop Ty Arnold made a perfect throw to catcher Preston Turk. The only thought Turk had was whether he could hang on to the ball as Alford plowed into him trying to score the game-tying run.
In Saturday’s title game against DeSales, Northwest Christian could’ve easily gone through the motions in the eighth and settle for a runner-up finish. They were down three, 10-7, after the Irish scored three runs in the top of the inning.
Did the Navigators have enough left for a comeback? Could they score four runs in the bottom of the eighth?
Even this reporter had her doubts. But never discount the miracle.
One batter at a time, they slowly started chipping away at the lead. They pushed one run across, then a second. All of a sudden, a three-run game was 10-9.
With Mailhot up to bat, all coach Don Heinze wanted him to do was put the ball in play.
How about a game-winning hit?
What looked like a routine groundball was anything but. Just as DeSales second baseman Shane Roach was moving to corral the ball, it took a funny hop and bounced over his head.
In comes Heinze from third base to score. Right behind him is Tracht.
The celebration mob began instantly just off home plate, and shortly afterward, Mailhot was dog-piled by his teammates.
The stunned DeSales players walked off the field and toward their dugout on the third base side as they watched what they had done to teams 15 of the past 17 years – celebrate winning a state title.
Mailhot, a freshman, wanted to win it badly for the six seniors – Heinze, Tracht, Turk, Nathan Burres, Danny Post and Nathan Bohlig.
It’s impossible to understand the pain the seniors felt a year ago, but it’s easy to know why they wanted redemption.
They wanted another chance against DeSales and Asotin. They were confident that this time would be different.
DeSales and Asotin handed NWC both its losses during last season’s 2B state semifinals and third/fourth-place game. The sting of those two end-of-season losses carried over into this season and served as a strong motivating factor for the team, particularly the team’s seniors.
Will these kids play in something bigger than that at another time in their lives? Probably not. Maybe Heinze will be fortunate enough to win an NAIA baseball title with San Diego Christian College starting next season.
Northwest Christian celebrated the thrill of victory in back-to-back exciting, nearly miraculous games. How often do sporting events – especially two state high-school baseball games – end in something you would see made in Hollywood?
Just ask the Navigators.
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473