One way or another, Elma’s Cinderella run through the 1A District 4 Tournament was going to come to an end on Friday.
Unfortunately for Cinder-Elma, the clock struck midnight.
The Eagles managed just one baserunner as their bats fell silent in a 3-0 loss to La Center in the district championship game at Castle Rock High School.
Elma (9-11 overall) managed just one base hit — a leadoff single by Gibson Cain in the second inning — in the game against Wildcats freshman right-hander Justin Fuller.
Grant Vessey followed with a sacrifice bunt to move Cain to second, but Fuller struck out TJ Dunlap and Logan Skeem to end the threat.
In a game where both teams pitched well and played error-free baseball, minor miscues were magnified.
La Center (16-6) scored a run when Fuller singled with two outs to drive in Alex Mora, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the second inning.
The Wildcats added to their lead in the fourth when Fuller again singled with two outs, chasing home Mora and Austin Aseph with La Center’s second and third runs, respectively.
La Center threatened in the fifth when Tyler Normine led off with a single and — after Cain got La Center’s Smith Stimmel to pop out to Jack Alexander at short — Branson Castleberry drew a walk off Elma reliever Ethan Camus, putting runners on first and second with one out.
Camus struck out Jaren Tikka then walked Mora to load the bases, but the Elma freshman right-hander recovered to strikeout Wyatt Bethje to end the frame.
Elma sophomore reliever Landon Mckinney tossed a scoreless sixth and seventh innings to keep the Eagles within striking distance.
But it was all for not as Elma’s offense had no answer for Fuller, who pitched with a confidence that bordered on cockiness, blowing kisses toward the Elma dugout at one point of the game.
After Cain’s single in the second, Fuller retired 18 straight Elma hitters, using primarily a high fastball to strikeout 11 Eagles without a walk in an 80-pitch complete-game gem.
“Our bats that got us this far kind of went dead tonight,” said Elma head coach Travis Vessey, whose team will play in the state regionals for the first time since 2006. “We’ll regroup and we’ll come back.”
Cain (4.1 IP, 3R, 2ER, 5H, 8K, 4BB), Camus (0.2 IP, 2K, BB) and Mckinney (2 IP, 3K, BB) combined to allow five hits and strikeout 13 Wildcats.
Vessey added that certain plays — failing to turn a double play and not diving for a sinking liner in the outfield, for example — ended up being magnified when runs were hard to come by.
“We felt like we made a couple key mental errors that could’ve kept it at a 1-0 ballgame for awhile, and that’s definitely a lot easier to come back from than a 3-0 game,” he said. “Those kind of plays are mental (mistakes) to me.”
While placing second in districts is not what the Eagles had hoped for, their season is not over as they earned the program’s first trip to the 1A State regional round since 2006, which is set to begin on Saturday, May 21.
“It’s a big deal for our program, our community, so we’re pretty excited about it,” Coach Vessey said. “Our big message was, ‘Hey, (the loss) stinks. But we’re still in it and don’t give up on that.’”
La Center 010 200 0 — 3 5 0
Elma 000 000 0 — 0 1 0
La Center — Fuller (2-4, 3RBI), Normine (1-3), Stimmel (1-3), Mora (1-1, 2R). WP – Fuller (7 IP, 0R, H, 11K).
Elma — Cain (1-3). LP – Cain (4.1 IP, 3R, 2ER, 5H, 8K, 4BB).
King’s Way Christian 2, Montesano 1
Montesano’s season ended abruptly after a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss in extra innings to King’s Way Christian Friday morning at Castle Rock High School.
Needing a win to keep its season alive, Monte (16-7) fell behind early after KWC (20-4) loaded the bases and scored an unearned run on a Isaac Pisarczyk fielder’s choice in the top of the first inning.
Montesano starting pitcher Cam Taylor got a strikeout and a groundout to get out of the frame with no further damage.
The Bulldogs trailed until the sixth inning, tying the game when Bode Poler — aboard with a one-out single — scored on a two-out double to center field off the bat of Jackson Busz.
Monte had a chance to earn a walk-off win in the bottom of the seventh when Isaac Pierce walked and advanced to second on a Christian Olsen sacrifice bunt.
But KWC pitcher Derek Tarnoski got both Tyler Johansen and Dalton Harris to ground out, ending the threat and sending the game to extra innings.
In the top of the eighth, Marcus Whitney doubled off Monte reliever Skylar Bove with one out and scored the go-ahead run when Makani Geisen followed with a single to left field..
Tarnoski did the rest, getting Kaleb Ames to pop out followed by two ground outs by Bode Poler and Josh Wills in the Monte half of the eighth to end the game, and the Bulldogs’ season.
Taylor threw seven innings for Montesano, allowing an unearned run on three hits with five strikeouts in seven innings pitched.
“Cam Taylor threw a great game,” Bulldogs head coach Mike Osgood said. “He had their hitters off balance and did a really good job keeping us in the game.”
Osgood reflected on this past season and thanked his seniors after the game.
“We had a good season. Didn’t accomplish everything we set out to do, but it was good group guys to battle with,” he said. “The seniors were good players and teammates. We thank Isaac Pierce, Isaiah Pierce, Mason Ellis, Zandar Ames and Alex Delgado for their hard work over the years.”
KWC 100 000 01 — 2 5 1
Montesano 000 001 00 — 1 5 2
KWC — Whitney (2-3, 2B, 2R), Peru (2-3, 2B), Geisen (1-4, RBI). WP – Tarnoski (8 IP, 5H, R, ER, 2K, 2BB).
Montesano — Busz (2-3, 2B, RBI), Poler (1-4, R), Wills (1-4), Harris (1-3). LP – Bove (IP, R, ER, 2H).