It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. And it ain’t ever easy.
Those time-tested (if ungrammatical) adages were fully in play until the final out of the seventh inning Friday night in Tumwater’s 8-5 victory over Centralia in the Class 2A District IV title game.
The Thunderbirds, seemingly cruising with a 6-0 lead halfway through the sixth inning, had to survive a Centralia rally that had the winning run at the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
But Joey Jones made a sparkling run-and-slide catch of Jacob Monohon’s line-drive smash to left for the final out and the T-Birds hung on to claim the district championship and a No. 1 seed to regionals next weekend.
“It’s good for these guys,” said Tumwater coach Clay Hill, who nurtured a predominantly young team through an uneven early season. “I knew we had the talent. I told ‘em, ‘You guys are like a bunch of chocolate chip cookies. You got all the ingredients, but it doesn’t taste too good yet.’ ”
By earning the top seed, Tumwater (17-6) will return to Ed Wheeler Field here next Saturday for a 1 p.m. opening game. Centralia plays its regional opener at 10 a.m. Saturday at Franklin Pierce High School.
Tumwater starter and winning pitcher Riley Owen didn’t give up a hit until the sixth inning, and he jump-started the T-Birds’ five-run fourth with a leadoff single.
In that fourth inning, Bradley Kramer cracked a two-run double and Tanner Angel, Noah Sirkel and Noah Andrews had RBIs as the T-Birds got to Centralia starter Jake Sutton.
The T-Birds added a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Andrews to go up 6-0. In the bottom of the inning, Centralia finally broke through against Owen. A walk followed by the Tigers’ first hit — a single to right by Drew Fagerness — plus a wild pitch and RBI single by Christian Peters got Centralia within 6-2.
Tumwater tacked on two more in the top of the seventh on a run-scoring infield single by Jacob Dardano and a bloop RBI single by pinch-hitter Jarid Barrett.
Owen, a 6-foot-7 senior right-hander, took the mound to open the seventh with an 8-2 lead. After Max Dulin worked Owen for a one-out walk, Tiger junior Riley Christianson made the righty pay with a two-run shot over the left-field fence to get Centralia within 8-4.
Trayten Rodriguez, a sophomore, came on to pitch and promptly got the second out on a fly ball. But he hit Gavin Kerner with a pitch, surrendered a single to Fagerness, and walked Kieran Bredeson to load the bags.
Peters greeted new Tumwater pitcher Logan Chase (also a sophomore) with a single to plate one run. But Chase quelled the rally — and ended the game — by getting Monohon to line out to Jones, a junior who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh.
“They’ve done it all year,” said Owen, who was part of a small returning core along with Angel, Keenan Milligan and Elijah Hill, of the T-Birds’ underclassmen. “I’ve got confidence in them.”
Coach Hill said he told his young guys, “Don’t wait to be a senior to be a senior.”