Bulldogs end 24-year regional baseball drought

CASTLE ROCK — With Layne Bruner excelling on the mound, at the plate and with his powers of observation, Montesano ended a 24-year regional baseball drought in style.

Bruner pitched a three-hitter and hit a three-run homer— launched after he detected a pattern in the opposing pitcher’s motion — as the Bulldogs captured the Region II Class 1A Tournament with a 9-1 victory over Woodland on Saturday at Castle Rock.

Montesano had advanced to the regional final with an 11-1 drubbing of Mount Baker earlier in the day. Woodland, which had handed the top-ranked Bulldogs their only loss in last week’s district tourney, advanced with a 10-6 win over Vashon Island.

The Bulldogs (23-1) advanced to a state semifinal meeting with the Region I champion at 10 a.m. Friday at Yakima. Their opponent will not be determined until today, since the Region I event at Anacortes was rained out Saturday.

Although the Bulldogs have been a fixture in regional competition in recent years, this is the first time they’ve made the state’s Final Four since 1989, when a Brad Pocklington-coached team was runner-up to Ephrata.

“I can’t believe how hard we’ve worked the last week,” Layne Bruner said. “Everything we’ve worked for last week and all year came together for us.”

“I’m feeling really proud and really blessed right now,” added Mike Bruner, Layne’s father and coach.

In truth, the stars seemed aligned in Montesano’s favor all day.

A nine-run outburst in the first 1 1/2 innings against Mount Baker enabled Mike Bruner to remove his WSU-bound son from the mound in that game, thus maintaining his pitching eligibility for the regional title contest.

Even the weather cooperated. Rain that had fallen for most of the morning had stopped by the beginning of the Montesano-Mount Baker game. Showers resumed during the final innings of that contest and for much of the Woodland-Vashon Island contest, but the title game was contested in dry conditions.

Layne Bruner finished the day with 12 strikeouts in eight innings while hitting two homers and driving in seven runs. But this was far from a one-man show.

Montesano’s defense played an enormous role in the closer-than-it-looked title contest.

Shortstop Shad Rogers, second baseman Zack Nelson and first baseman Kenny Roy combined to turn two critical double plays, with Roy making a couple of nice pick-ups of low throws.

After Woodland’s Cy Whitmire was awarded first base when an original out call was overturned in the fourth inning, Bulldog catcher Tucker Ibabao promptly nailed Whitmire on an attempted steal.

With Bruner and Woodland southpaw Trevor Huddleston (who had beaten the Bulldogs at district) locked in a pitching duel, the game was tied at that stage, 1-all.

The Bulldogs took command a half-inning later with a five-run fifth prolonged by one of four Beaver errors. All nine Monte runs in the contest, in fact, were unearned.

Walks to Nate Nussbaum and Rogers, followed by Ibabao’s swinging-bunt single, loaded the bases with one out. A low throw on Elliot Mendenhall’s grounder to third skipped past the first baseman, bringing home two runs.

At this point of the inning, the Bulldogs hadn’t hit a ball out of the infield. Bruner, however, crushed a Huddleston curve beyond the infield and outfield with a three-run shot that soared well over the 358-foot sign in right field.

“When he threw a fastball, his arm was bent. His arm was completely straight when he threw his curve,” Bruner said of Huddleston. “I recognized it before the pitch and keyed on it.”

That gave the Bulldogs a 6-1 lead. They tacked on three more runs in the seventh on a couple more Beaver errors, a walk, wild pitch, Matt Jensen’s sacrifice fly and Jordan Bussard’s RBI single.

Bruner uncharacteristically struggled with his control early, walking two in the first inning and surrendering a run on an obstruction call that Coach Bruner acknowledged was correct.

The senior left-hander, however, settled down to retire seven of the final eight batters. He struck out nine while walking four. All three Beaver hits were of the infield variety.

Bulldogs 11, Mountaineers 1

With Bruner contributing another three-run homer, Montesano wasted little time ending the suspense in its regional opener.

Rogers singled to open the game and scored the contest’s first run when Ibabao’s grounder was thrown away. After Mendenhall singled, Bruner homered to right to give the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead. They added another run later in the inning when Nussbaum’s double scored Jensen from first base.

The Bulldogs added four more in a second inning that included Nelson’s leadoff double and singles by Ibabao and Kody Usher.

That proved sufficient cushion to enable Coach Bruner to remove Layne from the mound. Jensen worked the final six innings, allowing only four hits while striking out eight.

“We were able to come out and jump on them and get some runs early in the game. That opened up some options for us,” Coach Bruner said.

Rogers and Nelson delivered three hits each in that game, with Nelson contributing a pair of doubles.

Mon 540 100 1 — 11 15 2 Mtb 000 100 0 — 1 4 5

Bruner, Jensen (2) and Ibabao, Bussard (2); N. Larson, Brownfield (2) and Cronk.

RBI: Montesano — Bruner 3, Usher 2, Nelson, Ibabao, Jensen, Nussbaum. Mount Baker — Cronk. Three hits: Montesano — Rogers, Nelson. Two hits: Montesano — Usher, Smith. Mount Baker — Cronk. Home runs: Montesano — Bruner. Doubles: Montesano — Nelson 2, Rogers, Usher, Nussbaum.

Winning pitcher — Jensen (walked one; struck out eight). Losing pitcher — N. Larson (walked one; struck out two).

Mon 100 050 3 — 9 8 1 Wood 100 000 0 — 1 3 4

Bruner and Ibabao; Trevor Huddleston and McQuivey.

RBI: Montesano — Bruner 4, Jensen, Bussard. Two hits: Montesano — Bruner, Smith. Home runs: Montesano — Bruner.

Winning pitcher — Bruner (walked four; struck out nine). Losing pitcher — Trevor Huddleston (walked four; struck out six).