LACEY — The seventh-inning jitters were in full effect for the North Thurston Rams as they were down to their final three outs in Friday’s 3A Narrows League baseball tournament title game.
“We were all nervous,” Rams junior first baseman Hayden Maliska said. “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 scored five runs in the top of the seventh inning for a 5-3 victory over the Blazers at the Regional Athletic Complex.
The Rams (17-5) earn the league’s No. 1 seed into the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament and will play at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Tacoma’s Heidelberg Park after a first-round bye.
The Blazers, the regular-season league champions, will play at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a single-elimination game at Heidelberg Park.
In the second game of the tournament’s doubleheader, South Kitsap topped Olympia, 2-1, in the 4A title game to earn the No. 1 seed into the district tournament.
Maliska’s RBI triple to deep left-center field in the seventh inning was the second hit off Timberline starter Matt Mercer.
Maliska was one of seven Rams to bat in the inning. With Maliska on third, Mercer walked Matt Zeutenhorst and intentionally walked Braden Rushton to get to freshman second baseman Noah Murski, who spent most of the season hitting ninth until recently being moved to the seventh spot.
With the bases loaded, Murski hit a 1-0 fastball through the infield into right field, driving home three runs. Murski later scored on a fielder’s 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 who has committed to play for Washington State, were on cruise
control. Mercer shut down the Rams in order in five of the first six innings and had his perfect game end in the fourth with a one-out double by Dylan Wharton, who was stranded at third.
Wharton was the Rams’ only base runner through six innings. Mercer took the complete-game loss, giving up three hits and striking out five. Timberline got one run back in the bottom of the seventh, when Josiah Julagay scored on Tyler Gartner’s RBI single.
One recurring problem for Timberline was base running: two Blazers were picked off and another was caught stealing. In the sixth, North Thurston catcher Zeutenhorst threw out Blake Nystrom, who was trying to steal third base in an inning where Timberline increased its lead to 2-0 on Jonathan Dowell’s double.
“We’ll live and learn from it,” Blazers coach Matt Acker said.
North Thurston starter Ryan Mets, an Oregon State commit, struck out eight to earn the win.
Timberline topped North Thurston twice during the regular season, 5-2 on April 19 and 2-0 on April 22.
BEARS FALL TO WOLVES IN 4A NARROWS TITLE GAME
Tyler Ludlow’s two-RBI double in the first inning was all red-hot South Kitsap needed in a 2-1 victory over Olympia in the 4A Narrows League title game.
South Kitsap (16-4) has won 10 of its past 11 games, including a 10-0 win against Olympia on April 10, and will be the league’s No. 1 seed at the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament Wednesday.
As the second seed, Olympia (16-5) faces Puyallup, champions of the South Puget Sound League, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Kent’s Art Wright Field. The Vikings beat the Bears, 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 head’s-up play by third baseman Gabe Padukiewicz to tag out Cody Wolfe when Wolfe stepped off the base 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 didn’t execute in critical times, and you can’t 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.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick