The Kamiakin baseball team has seen a few things this season, done a few more.
The Braves have been frequent visitors to extra innings, forfeited three games at the end of the regular-season that cost them an early-round bye, and won five playoff games with their season on the line.
But no one — not the veteran players, longtime fans or even grizzled ex-coaches — had ever seen something quite like what the Braves pulled off Friday afternoon at Gesa Stadium.
Jacob Valdez’s two-run single completed a four-run rally in the seventh inning — three of those runs coming with two out — and Andrew Castillo doubled and scored the game-winner in the ninth as Kamiakin completed an improbable comeback for a 7-5 win over Bishop Blanchet in the 3A baseball state semifinals.
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Jesse Houser threw all nine innings for Kamiakin (18-9), which will face Eastside Catholic (19-5) in today’s championship game at 4 p.m. The Crusaders from Sammamish beat Kelso 13-1. Blanchet (16-10) and Kelso (18-8) will play for third place at 10 a.m.
“We’ve worked way too hard to just give up in the postseason,” said Kamiakin third baseman Nolan Earley, who had three hits and provided the bunt that scored Castillo from second on an improbable play. “We were not going to give up and let this go without a fight.”
A crowd of more than 500 fans was on hand as the big-school championships visited the Tri-Cities for the first time in the 40-year history of the event.
Kamiakin’s RUN KANO crowd got a good show.
Castillo led off the ninth against Blanchet starting pitcher Peter Johnson — still in the game despite that seventh-inning rally and 142 pitches on his arm. Castillo hammered a ball down the left-field line that likely clears the wall if not for a wind blowing to right field.
He settled for a stand-up double, and was bound for third when Earley lay down a terrific sacrifice bunt. With the first baseman charging on the play, Blanchet second baseman Sam Holberg fielded the throw but was standing in the middle of the bag.
With nowhere left to touch first, Earley instead ran over Holberg. He was out, with the throw beating him, but Holberg lost hold of the ball, and Castillo kept running, scoring to put Kamiakin up 6-5.
“He was standing on the middle of the bag, and I wasn’t slowing up,” Earley said.
Under WIAA rules, collisions at home plate are an automatic out — something Kamiakin found out in last year’s semifinal game — but fielders have to give runners a piece of first base to touch.
The Braves tacked on one more when Johnny Jansen doubled and scored on Tylor Machart’s double — the second RBI of the game for the No. 9 hitter.
That was more than enough for Houser, who gave no thought to coming out, even though he was at 136 pitches.
“Not this time,” he said. “No way.”
Which is pretty much what he told his coach when Ryan Carter got today’s starter, David Marshall, ready to go.
“He said, ‘I’m not coming out. You’re not taking me out,’ ” said Carter, who has had a few of those conversations with Houser over the years.
Houser delivered a one-two-three ninth, a fly out to Jansen in right field sparking a stream of Kamiakin players charging out of the dugout to celebrate the win.
But it was a victory that was highly unlikely a few innings earlier.
Kamiakin took a 1-0 lead over Blanchet — also the Braves — when Machart singled in Earley in the second inning.
But the Seattle school took it back and then some in the bottom of the frame. Connor Celli started it with a double, and Eric Kimpton capped the five-run outburst with another double. In between, Blanchet scored on a double steal, a squeeze bunt and a single.
Throw a shaky first and third innings into the mix, and it was a wonder that Houser survived and even thrived.
“It’s always hard when you have one inning that kills you, to push through it,” said Houser, who has won five games in the postseason. “It’s frustrating, but I had to do it.”
Blanchet was blanked the rest of the way, giving Kamiakin plenty of chances to chip away. But the local team left runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
Finally, it struck gold in the seventh.
Logan Jackson singled and Ty Earley walked to start the inning. Groundball outs to second from the heart of the order scored one run, but it took a two-out error on Castillo’s grounder to short to keep the inning alive, scoring a second run in the process.
Nolan Earley then singled and Jansen walked, loading the bases and setting the stage for Valdez. The senior DH was 0-for-3 to that point, but he has had a penchant for delivering in big moments throughout the season.
This time, he ripped the first pitch he saw up the middle, bringing Kamiakin all the way back.
“People have ended up in prison for trying to get the feeling I had,” Valdez said the euphoria of his hit and the improbable win. “When I come up in clutch moments, that’s when I play the best.”
Eastside Catholic 13, Kelso 1: The Crusaders trailed 1-0 most of the game, but then their trademark late-game heroics came through.
Freshman outfielder Addison Hull, whose fielder’s choice plated the winning run in the quarterfinals, smacked a two-out, two-run double in the fifth and later came home on a balk.
It was still a game heading into the seventh before Eastside Catholic piled on 11 runs.
It was more cushion than a two-story down pillow, and far more than Crusaders’ ace Alex Foley needed to finish off his three-hitter.
Kamiakin 010 000 402 — 7 12 2
Bishop Blanchet 050 000 000 — 5 9 2
Jesse Houser and Ty Earley; Peter Johnson and Jacob Pleas. Highlights — Andrew Castillo (K) 2B, 2R; Nolan Earley (K) 3x3, BB, SAC, 2R; Johnny Jansen (K) 2x3, 2B, 2 HBP, R; Jacob Valdez (K) 2x5, 2 RBI; Tylor Machart (K) 2x5, 2B, 2 RBI; Nate Backus (BB) 2x5; Eric Kimpton (BB) 2B; Johnson (BB) 2B; Connor Celli (BB) 2x4, 2 2B; Nate Williams (BB) 2x4.