RICHLAND— To be the champions, you have to beat the champions.
Cashmere, the defending state 1A baseball champions, proved that notion to Montesano on Sunday afternoon.
Montesano led 4-3 in the first 3 1/2 innings of this state 1A baseball championship game at Bomber Field in Richland. Cashmere broke out the baseball trick plays, grabbed the momentum and the lead with a two-run fourth inning and never looked back for an 8-4 victory.
The Montesano Bulldogs (26-2) came close to capping off a dominant season with a state title, settling for a second-place finish — their highest finish since 1989. They also placed second that year, when they lost 8-5 to Ephrata in the title game in Seattle’s now-defunct Kingdome.
The Cashmere Bulldogs lost all but one starter from last year’s state-title winning team and repeated the title run with a virtual one-year group of seniors and veterans.
“We only returned one starter, a completely different team and they learned a lot from the guys ahead of them last year,” Cashmere head coach Jeff Carlson said. “We’re just thrilled to death for these seniors; it was their turn. Most of them were junior varsity guys last year and had just one year to be a varsity guy. To bring home the trophy with them is really special.”
“You know, it hurts, but I told the guys that I’d rather be in center field with them at the end of this game, not feeling good, than with any other group or team,” Montesano head coach Mike Bruner said. “The little things got us today and we played uncharacteristically. We got hot to start and a little momentum shift … I don’t know. I’m proud of these guys. I love these guys like family. It is a team loss — we all own it — and it is a cliche, but we’ll learn more from today and grow more from today than anything else this season.”
The momentum — and the game — turned in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Following a big third inning when Cashmere sent nine batters to the plate, scored three times and left the bases loaded, the Eastern Washington club restarted its offense against Monte starter Matthew Jensen.
A walk and an infield throwing error put runners on first and third with none out. First baseman Layne Bruner grabbed the high throw from shorstop Shad Rogers and appeared to put the tag on the right inside shoulder of runner Bryan McNair. The first-base umpire, behind the play, called McNair safe and coach Bruner came out to argue the call to no avail.
Mason Elliott followed with an RBI single to tie the game, 4-4. Dylan Tarver hit an infield single to move Elliott to third, then the momentum shifted for good.
Nathan Badgley executed a perfect squeeze bunt, forcing Jensen to field the ball and flip it to catcher Jordan Bussard after Elliott scored the go-ahead run that made it 5-4.
Cashmere used a squeeze bunt to grab momentum in its semifinal game against Cascade on Saturday and the result worked out the same.
“Jensen is very good on the bumt and he got off to a great start,” Carlson said. “It looked like he was cruising. In the later innings, we got things going, got some bunts down to cause some trouble. We just tried to execute and we were able to grab some momentum. We also played extremely well on defense. Credit goes out to Montesano, a senior-dominated team. We had to play really good today and we were able to.”
Jensen got out of the inning without further damage and Monte proceeded to put pressure on Cashmere starter Nathan Griffith, who was making just his third start of the season, in the top of the fifth.
Monte got Tucker Ibabao and Elliot Mendenhall on base with no outs on an infield error and a single. Griffith got a bang-bang out at third on Ibabao on a Bruner bunt, also bringing coach Bruner to argue the call from the third-base coaching box.
On a 1-1 pitch, Griffith faked a pickoff throw to second base on Mendenhall and Griffith, shortstop Elliott and second baseman Jonathan Modrell all acted as if “the ball” went into center field.
Mendenhall took off for third base, but Griffith had the ball in his glove — the hidden ball trick — and threw to third baseman Devin Knight, who tagged Mendenhall out to effectively end the threat.
“Ironically, we have the same pick-off in our plays,” Bruner said. “Cashmere is a well-coached team. We knew that coming in. We talked about the things they might do, but it is different talking about it and practicing against it in practice than in the game.”
Cashmere pushed across one run in the fifth and two more in the sixth as insurance runs. Jensen was knocked off the mound in favor of Ibabao in the sixth inning.
Montesano, which started the game with fire and offensive power, went hitless in the final two innings.
Rogers opened the game with a leadoff double, moved to third on a balk and scored on an infield throwing error for a quick 1-0 lead just two at-bats into the contest. Bruner drove in Zack Nelson with a single for a 2-0 lead.
Nelson made it 3-0, Monte, in the second inning on a two-out RBI single to left, scoring Jensen.
Cashmere tied the game with its three-run third inning, getting four straight singles off Jensen to plate the runs. Jensen parlayed a leadoff single in the top of the fourth inning into a run with a sacrifice bunt by Richard Smith, an infield error and a wild pitch for a 4-3 lead.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Bruner said. “Today is a tough day for us, but we’ll learn from it, get stronger and move on.”
Six of the eight Montesano seniors are scheduled to move on to play baseball collegiately — Layne Bruner is headed to Washington State University, with Rogers, Elliot Mendenhall, Jensen and Ibabao going to Columbia Basin College and Zack Nelson is tentatively going to Grays Harbor College, according to coach Bruner.
Monte 210 100 0 — 4 6 3
Cash 003 212 x — 8 13 4
Jensen, Ibabao (6) and Bussard; Griffith and McNair.
RBI: Montesano — Nelson 2, Bruner. Cashmere — Elliott, Tarver, Badgley 2, Griffith 2, Radke. Three hits: Cashmere — Tarver, Badgley. Two hits: Cashmere — Elliott, Radke, Griffith. Doubles: Montesano — Rogers. Cashmere — Radke.
Winning pitcher — Griffith (four strikeouts, two walks). Losing pitcher — Jensen (six strikeouts, four walks).