A glorious day for baseball at least ended gloriously for the Grays Harbor College Chokers.
Jordan Churchill doubled home the go-ahead runs in the sixth inning and second baseman Cameron Duckett made two potential game-saving defensive plays in the seventh as the Chokers rallied for a 5-4 second-game victory over Centralia College and a split of their NWAACC Western Division doubleheader on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon at Olympic Stadium.
The split left the Chokers 2-2 in league play and 4-17 overall.
Chokers 5, Trailblazers 4
Through 12 1/3 innings of the doubleheader, the Chokers had been hit by pitches (four times) almost as often as they had delivered hits (five).
But Garrett Bowen’s two-run triple — the first hit off Blazer starter Brady Batt — in the fourth inning tied the seven-inning second game at 3-all.
Two innings later, GHC’s Tyler Hiles reached on a one-out error and stopped at second on Corbin Sims’ single to right.
Churchill scored both runners with a booming double to center field. As it turned out, the Chokers needed to cash in the proverbial insurance run.
Choker pitcher Chase Johanson, who had retired nine of the previous 10 batters, lost his control in the seventh and issued consecutive one-out walks to Eric O’Bryan and Riley Shintaffer.
Grays Harbor coach Curtis Eccles then brought Hiles, the team’s designated hitter in the second game, to the mound. But Hiles proceeded to walk Sean Harris on four pitches to load the bases.
Clean-up batter Justin Wilson, who had delivered the game-winning hit in Centralia’s dramatic 4-3 win over GHC on Friday, sent a sharp bouncer up the middle. Duckett, who had been playing the right-handed Wilson to pull, roamed to the shortstop side of second to glove the ball, then retraced his steps and beat Harris to the bag for a force-out as O’Bryan scored.
“His momentum was going the other way,” Eccles noted. “For him to go back to the bag was huge. If he doesn’t make the play, you have the bases loaded with one out and a fly ball can tie it.”
Duckett, a sophomore from Freeman High School in Eastern Washington, had an even more spectacular play up his sleeve.
John Piper ripped a line drive toward center field. Duckett, however, sprawled to his right to make a sensational backhanded diving catch for the game-ending out.
As it developed, the Chokers salvaged a split despite being outhit 20-8 in the twin bill.
“We finally had timely hitting,” Eccles noted. “We had three hits (in the second game), but two were in clutch situations.”
Trailblazers 7, Chokers 1
Wilson’s two-run single in the first inning of the opening game gave the Blazers a lead they never relinquished.
Most of Grays Harbor’s attack in this game was confined to the bottom of the first. Kyle Weiler doubled and scored when Duckett’s ground ball went through the third baseman’s legs. Skyler Wheeler and Hiles followed with singles, but the Chokers were held to the single run when Duckett was thrown out at the plate on Wheeler’s hit.
Centralia pitchers Garrison Becker and Jake Conover limited the Chokers to only two more hits the rest of the way.
The visitors broke it open with a five-run fifth that started with five consecutive hits, including doubles by Harris and Shintaffer.
Wilson and O’Bryan had three hits apiece for the Blazers (also 2-2 in league).
The Chokers travel to Lower Columbia on Saturday and host the Red Devils on April 7.
Cen 200 050 000 — 7 14 3 GHC 100 000 000 — 1 5 2
Becker, Conover (7) and Tillotson; Snyder, Rubin (5), Rosendal (9) and Alexander.
RBI: Centralia — O’Bryan 2, Wilson 2, Shintaffer, Rinta, Smith. Three hits: Centralia — Wilson, O’Bryan. Two hits: Centralia —Shintaffer, Harris, Smith. Doubles: Centralia — Shintaffer 2, Harris. Grays Harbor — Weiler.
Winning pitcher — Becker (walked two; struck out six). Losing pitcher — Snyder (walked two; struck out none).
Cent 100 200 1 — 4 6 2 GHC 000 302 x — 5 3 1
Batt and Tillotson; Johanson, Hiles (7) and Schlesser.
RBI: Centralia — Harris, Wilson, Smith, Shelley. Grays Harbor — Churchill 2, Bowen 2. Two hits: Centralia — Smith. Triples: Grays Harbor — Bowen. Doubles: Centralia — O’Bryan, Shelley. Grays Harbor — Churchill.
Winning pitcher — Johanson (walked four; struck out none). Losing pitcher — Batt (walked one; struck out two).