TACOMA — It’s hard to believe that through 17 prior victories this season the North Thurston Rams never had an inning at the plate like they did during Wednesday’s 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict winner-to-state baseball game against Columbia River.
“The best inning all year,” said junior Dylan Wharton of the Rams’ five-hit, five-run sixth inning that provided the offensive jolt for their 10-4 victory over the Chieftains at Heidelberg Park. Wharton played a big part on offense all day, finishing 3-for-3 with three runs scored.
The win secures a berth in the regional round of the state tournament for the Rams (18-5) and a spot in Saturday’s 10 a.m. bidistrict semifinal at Auburn Mountainview against Peninsula, which topped Shelton, 17-0. At stake is a shot to play in the 7 p.m. title game.
North Thurston built a 4-0 lead before Columbia River, the third-place team out of the 3A Greater St. Helens League, mounted a comeback. By the middle of sixth inning, the Chieftains had closed the gap to 5-3 – aided in part by five uncharacteristic errors by the Rams’ defense. For the game, Columbia River managed just four hits off Rams starter Tyler Ridgeway, and two of the four runs were unearned.
Clinging to the 5-3 lead, the Rams sent eight batters to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, had four consecutive hits, and scored three
of their five runs with one out. Wharton picked up his third single by beating out a grounder to first base. He later scored on Hayden Maliska’s single to give the Rams an 8-3 lead.
“We always try to play good defense, we always have good pitching, we just try to get timely hitting and it showed up in that inning,” Wharton said. “We were sitting on the fastball. They kept throwing it and kept falling behind in the counts. We were really patient at the plate today and got fastball counts and hit them hard.”
Like Wharton, Maliska scored three runs, and Matt Zeutenhorst and Ryan Mets drove in three runs each. Ridgeway helped himself out at the plate by going 2-for-4 with an RBI double as part of the five-run sixth.
“We got them to ground out on some good at-bats from start to finish, and that was good to see,” Rams coach Lance Baker said.
Ridgeway improved to 7-1, throwing a complete game and striking out five. His final two strikeouts came in the sixth against Columbia River’s No. 9 and leadoff hitters with runners at the corners. It ended any further damage after the Chieftains had scored to trim their deficit to 5-3.
“When he gets a guy on, he always seems to find another gear and get a big strikeout when we need it,” Wharton said of Ridgeway.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick