By Meg Wochnick
LACEY -- The seventh-inning jitters were in full effect for the North Thurston Rams as they were down to their final three outs in Fridays 3A Narrows League baseball tournament title game.
We were all nervous, said Hayden Maliska, the Rams junior first baseman. ... it was time to go and time to get some clutch hits.
Trailing by two runs against a team that handed the Rams their only two losses in league play -- the Timberline Blazers -- North Thurston put up five runs in the top of the seventh for a 5-3 victory over the Blazers at the Regional Athletic Complex.
The Rams (17-5) earn the leagues No. 1 seed into next weeks 3A West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament, and will open up play at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Tacomas Heidelberg Park after a first-round bye. The Blazers, regular-season league champions, will play Tuesday at 7 p.m. in a single-elimination game at Heidelberg Park.
In the second game of the tournaments doubleheader, South Kitsap topped Olympia, 2-1, in the 4A title game to earn a No. 1 seed into the district tournament.
Maliskas RBI triple to deep left-center field was just the second hit off Timberline starter Matt Mercer and was one of seven Rams to bat in the seventh inning. With Maliska on third, Mercer walked Matt Zeutenhorst and intentionally walked Braden Rushton to get to second baseman Noah Murski, who spent most of the season hitting in the No. 9 hole only to move up to the seventh spot in recent game.
With the bases loaded, Murski, a freshman, took a 1-0 fastball through the infield to right field, driving home three runs. Murski later scored on a fielders choice that gave the Rams a 5-2 lead after beginning the inning trailing 2-0.
I was just looking to get the ball on the ground somewhere, putting the ball in play and just getting the run, Murski said.
Prior to the seventh, Timberline and Mercer, a sophomore Washington State commit, was on cruise control through six innings. Mercer shut down the Rams in order in five of the first six inning and had his perfect game end in the fourth with a one-out double by Dylan Wharton, who ended the inning stranded at third. That was the Rams only base runner through six innings. Mercer, who took the complete-game loss, giving up just three hits and striking out five batters. Timberline got one run back in the bottom of the seventh when Josiah Julagay score on Tyler Gartners RBI single.
One issue that was problematic for Timberline was its base running: two pickoffs and one caught stealing. In the sixth, Blake Nystrom was caught stealing and thrown out by Rams catcher Matt Zeutenhorst at third base in an inning where they increased their lead to 2-0 on Jonathan Dowells double.
Well live and learn from it, Timberline coach Matt Acker said.
North Thurston starter Ryan Mets, an Oregon State commit, struck out eight batters to earn the win. Timberline (17-4) topped North Thurston twice during the regular season, 5-2 (April 19), and 2-0 (April 22).
4A title game
South Kitsap 2, Olympia 1: Tyler Ludlows two-RBI double in the first inning was all the runs the red-hot Wolves needed in their victory over the Bears in the 4A Narrows League baseball tournament title game.
South Kitsap (16-4) has now won 10 of its past 11 games, including a 10-0 win against Olympia April 10, and will be the leagues No. 1 seed at the 4A West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament Wednesday.
As the second seed, Olympia (16-5) faces Puyallup, champions of the South Puget Sound League, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Kents Art Wright Field. The Vikings beat Olympia, 7-0, on March 13. Starting pitcher Michael Fairchild gave up just the two first-inning runs -- both earned -- and struck out five in the loss.
With the Wolves lead at 2-0 in the fourth, Olympia had runners on the corners when Cameron Frost scored from third on a wild pitch from South Kitsap starter Logan Knowles.
Olympia boosted a handful of spectacular defensive plays, including a diving catch in left field by Joey Knight and a heads-up play by third baseman Gabe Padukiewicz to tag out Cody Wolfe when Wolfe stepped off the bag at third after a triple. Frost finished 2-for-3 with a run scored and Wolfe went 2-for-2.
Michael Wood, who pitched three innings of relief, shut Olympia down in order to end the game in the seventh.
We didnt execute in critical times, and you cant do that -- not execute -- in these kinds of games, Olympia interim coach Greg Creighton said. We had a chance until all the way at the end.