It was one part plate discipline, two parts clutch defense, and all nail-biting drama.
In the end, the Montesano Bulldogs outlasted Chehalis to win the 9-11 year-old Little League District 3 championship 11-10 on Friday at Pioneer Park in Aberdeen — doing so in thrilling fashion.
Though they were outhit by Chehalis 11-8 in the game, Monte’s offense was propelled by an eight-run third inning, one in which the Bulldogs drew six walks from a depleted Chehalis pitching staff.
“We saved our pitchers,” Coach Grubb said of his starting staff’s ability to eat up innings in the days leading up to the final game, adding it was a key to Friday’s victory. “I think that kind of hurt Chehalis a little bit tonight. They sort of ran out of pitching. … It’s a chess game, it really is.”
Uncommon to 9-11 year-old boys, Monte batters showed great patience at the dish, drawing nine walks in the game compared to a mere three strikeouts.
Monte’s defense, led by center fielder Terek Gunter, was also stellar. The Bulldogs committed no errors and were helped by a pitching staff that allowed four free passes the entire contest.
Gunter was both prodigious and spectacular when called upon, which was quite often on Friday. Aside from going 1-for-3 with a run-scoring double, Gunter made a putout in each of the six innings played. Several of his catches dazzled the Montesano crowd. Gunter snared a drive headed over his head to steal an extra-base hit from Cal Bulloch in the first inning followed by a running-catch in the left-centerfield gap to end the second with runners on base. The mini-Mike Trout also thwarted a Chehalis scoring opportunity in the third inning, jumping up to grab a liner headed for the fence with a runner on first.
“I was feeling good,” Gunter said of his busy day patrolling the field.”That’s the most amount of balls that have ever been hit to me in a game. So it was really nice.”
Monte took a 1-0 lead in the first inning after leadoff hitter Adam Schmitz was chased home on Gunter’s fielder’s choice ground out two batters later.
Chehalis rallied for two runs in the second to take the lead, but Gunter’s running catch kept the score at 2-1.
Monte starting pitcher Colton Grubb held Chehalis scoreless in the top of the third, setting up Monte’s big bottom half of the inning.
After Chehalis starter Kyrin Melham issued back-to-back walks to start the inning, Hodgson McCallam was brought in to pitch, but he struggled against a steadfast Monte lineup that rarely swung at pitches off the plate. After striking out Grubb for the first out, McCallam walked Carter Ames and Ryder Creamer to force in a run and tie the game at 2-2. Gunter the scored on a pass ball and was followed by Brodi Burton’s run-scoring base hit to make it a 4-2 ballgame.
Two straight throwing errors by the Chehalis defense led to Monte’s fifth and sixth runs and set up Gunter, who then smacked a two-run double to deep center, giving the Bulldogs an 8-2 lead.
After another walk, Kolson Hendricksen scored on an infield pickle play to make it 9-2 as Monte scored eight runs on six walks and two hits in the frame.
Coach Grubb said his team takes pride in its ability to wear down opposing pitching staffs, particularly in a tournament where teams that reach the final play six games in as many days and team pitching staffs are running on fumes.
“We do pride ourselves at being disciplined at the plate and then when they do throw strikes, let’s put the ball in play.” he said. “They had a lot of walks and we had a lot of base runners on. They had more hits, but we had more base runners we were able to score. … It was a hard-fought game.
But Chehalis got back in the game with its bats, scoring four runs on six hits in the fourth inning, chasing Grubb from the bump in the process.
Monte scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth, highlighted by Nathon Dowler’s RBI single and an additional three walks drawn by Bulldog batters to make it an 11-6 game.
The score remained that way until the Chehalis sixth, where the first four batters reached with base hits, chasing Monte reliever Hendricksen — who had held Chehalis’ powerful offense in check in relief of Grubb — from the mound.
Ames was brought in relief as similar to Chehalis a few innings earlier, Monte had to dig deep into its bullpen. Melham promptly drove in two runs with a base hit, making it a one-run game at 11-10 and putting Chehalis in great shape representing the tying run with no outs.
After a walk to Gage Grisham, Ames got the next two outs on a fly ball to Gunter and an unassisted putout at first base.
With the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position, Grady Wilson hit a sharp, one-hop ground ball back at Ames who knocked it down, scampered a foot behind to the baseball, and threw to first to record the out and set off a roaring celebration as the Bulldogs coaches and players hugged in front of the pitcher’s mound.
“‘Let’s get a stop and win this.’ That’s really all I was thinking,” Gunter said of the game’s waning moments.
With the victory, Montesano earned its second consecutive trip to the state tournament, which is slated to begin on July 13 at the Northshore Athletic Fields in Woodinville.
“I’m so proud of these kids and happy for the parents. For these kids to get to be a part of (competing at a state tournament), that’s what this is all about. It’s why we coach.”
“It feels awesome,” Gunter said of earning a state berth. “We’re going to go have fun, win, do really good, but most of all just have fun.”
Chehalis 020 404 — 10 11 2
Montesano 108 20x — 11 8 0
WP — Colton Grubb (3 IP, 6 R, 7 H, 2 BB, 2 K); LP — Melham (2 IP, 3 R, 2 H, 4 BB); SV — Ames (IP, 0 R, H, BB)
Top Players: Montesano — Hendricksen (2-3, 2 R, BB); Gunter (1-3, 2B, 3 RBI); Schmitz (1-2, 2 R, 2 BB); Trent Scott (1-1, 2 R, 2 BB)