TUMWATER — While everyone else was glued to the Thunderbirds’ rally, a surprised Tanner Angel was hurrying to warm up his arm.
“I actually didn’t think I was going to pitch today,” the Tumwater junior said. “When they told me in the sixth inning there really wasn’t much time to get ready.”
A shaky start led to a bases-loaded situation before Angel found his groove, striking out the final two batters to pick up the save in the Thunderbirds’ 4-2 victory against visiting W.F. West in 2A Evergreen Conference baseball on Tuesday.
“We’ve asked Tanner three times this year to save a game for us,” Tumwater coach Jamie Weeks said. “He’s now 3-for-3.”
Tumwater (11-2 overall, 10-1 2A EvCo) widens its lead over the Bearcats (10-4, 9-4) in the conference standings. The gap could grow even larger as the two teams play today in Chehalis to close out the regular-season series.
With postseason play looming, odds are it won’t be the last time they square off as the most recent battle marked the seventh meeting between the two squads over the past two seasons.
W.F. West won all four games against the T-Birds a year ago, including a 12-0 victory in the Class 2A state title game.
However, the trend has gone the other way this season with Tumwater winning both games. The T-Birds also won by the same 4-2 score on March 31.
“Last year we were a very young team. There were times we were a little overwhelmed,” Weeks said. “I’m not sure we win this type of game last year. This year we’re a very senior-heavy team with a lot of confidence.”
With the score tied at 2 in the bottom of the sixth, Tumwater cracked the game open with five consecutive hits, resulting in a pair of runs.
Easton Trakel kicked things off with a single before a Justin Graham double landed just fair along the left field line. Trakel would score the go-ahead run on a throwing error.
“We couldn’t get anything going all game,” said Graham, who had two hits and scored twice. “I knew it wasn’t going to be fair by much. Luckily it dropped for me. Easton’s hit seemed to get us going.”
An RBI single by Anthony Correia drove in Graham to produce the game’s final score.
“We told the team after the game that good teams find a way to win,” Weeks said. “Beating W.F. West is no small task.”
Tumwater starter Elijah Hill gave up four hits in 6 innings of work before being replaced by Angel.
The Bearcats jumped on the pitching change quickly with Toby Johnson’s single loading the bases with one out.
“I just needed to calm down. I went in there trying to strike everyone out,” Angel said. “We always say, ‘You have to bulldog through.’ That’s what I did.”
Angel struck out Brody Holcomb, then faced Tanner Gueller, whose double in the third inning gave W.F. West a 2-1 advantage.
“When Gueller steps up to the plate, bad things usually happen for the opposing teams,” Weeks said. “He’s just an incredibly gifted athlete.”
Gueller was unable to deliver this time as Angel fanned him on five pitches, preserving the win for the T-Birds.
Tumwater’s Garrett Terrell went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and 2 RBIs. The senior’s first double scored Graham to give Tumwater a 1-0 lead.
A Ryan Steepy RBI knotted the game at 1 in the top of the second for the Bearcats.
Hill, who had difficultly with his location during a three-walk second inning, quickly got into a flow and retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced before handing the ball over to Angel.
“Elijah was fantastic for us today,” Weeks said. “This is a huge win for us.”