CHAMPIONS: Truckee baseball earns Nevada 3A baseball title with thrilling 2-1 win
RENO, Nev. and#8212; Off the crack of the bat, players, coaches and fans of the two best 3A baseball teams in the state could only hope and#8211; during that brief moment of limbo and#8211; that fate was on their side.
An instant later, Cody Kerns’ line-drive with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning and#8211; and the tying run at second base and#8211; was absorbed into the glove of Truckee second baseman Aaron Pado, who flipped an underhand toss to shortstop Steven Baker at second to double off Elko runner Damon Rasch by a step.
Just like that, Truckee’s precarious 2-1 lead over Elko in the state championship final at Peccole Park on Saturday became a reality.
“It all happened so fast,and#8221; said Truckee senior Tony Buranzon, who watched the final play unfold from the mound after pitching three crucial innings in relief. and#8220;He hit it, I saw Pado catch it, and it was awesome.”
Baker, who started the game pitching and was dominant through his allotted four innings, conceded that he was nervous when the final batted ball appeared destined for center field.
“At first I was like, ‘ah, crap.’ Then Pado ended up catching it and then he tossed it to me, and I was just so excited,and#8221; said Baker. “It’s awesome. I can’t even describe it. It’s amazing.”
Pado said he read the line drive from the point of contact and had no fear executing the big play.
“No, it was just instinct,and#8221; he said. and#8220;I saw it right off the bat, and then Bake was there for the double play.and#8221;
It was as simple as that, according to the Truckee junior.
But really, there was nothing simple about the Wolverines’ first state baseball title since 1994.
Elko came to play, as the top-seeded Indians defeated the second-seeded Wolverines 8-4 on Saturday morning to set the stage for the final, deciding game immediately following. Truckee entered without a loss in the double-elimination tournament while Elko needed two wins on the day after losing to Fallon on Thursday.
The Indians nearly pulled off the feat against the red-hot Wolverines, who carried a 15-game winning streak into the day, with 26 wins in their last 27 games.
But one key component of Truckee’s success during that streak went noticeably missing against Elko and#8211; offense.
The Wolverines managed only five hits in the first game Saturday and ran themselves out of several innings on the base paths. Their struggles continued in the deciding game, as they mustered just three hits and two runs despite the eight walks issued by Elko starter Joe Bejarano and reliever Derek Ridgway.
The uncharacteristic lack of offensive support left the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Truckee’s top two hurlers. Luckily for the Wolverines, the senior duo was up to the task, despite the fact that both had thrown complete games in the past two days.
“I felt 110 percent today,and#8221; Baker said. and#8220;I felt better than I did on Thursday, so I was real excited about that. I’m glad I got to throw.”
It showed in the pop on his fastball. Baker recorded the first seven outs by way of strikeout and allowed just one hit and two walks in four innings and#8211; by NIAA rules, pitchers are limited to 11 innings in a four-day span. He had eight strikeouts total before reaching his maximum innings.
Buranzon, who threw seven solid innings in a 9-3 win over Fallon on Friday, wanted the ball to close it out.
and#8220;You got this, Tony?and#8221; asked Truckee pitching coach J.R. Murphy.
and#8220;Heck yeah,and#8221; Buranzon said with confidence as he trotted to the bullpen for his warm-up.
With his team clinging to a 2-0 lead, Buranzon struck out the first batter he faced in the fifth before allowing consecutive base hits, the second of which scored Elko’s only run of the game on a throwing error.
After Buranzon struck out the side in the sixth, Elko sophomore Chad Schumacher blooped a base hit to shallow right field to lead off the seventh. Philip Benevides then bunted the pinch-running Rasch to second, which set up the timely double play that secured Truckee baseball’s third-ever state championship.
“Words can’t explain how I feel,and#8221; said an emotional Truckee head coach Mike Ellis after the celebration. and#8220;I got a little nervous. I kept saying, ‘OK, Tony, you need nine outs. Tony you need six outs. Now you need just three more.’ And then the leadoff guy gets on on a 1-2 pitch. So then I was like, ‘Oh please, God, don’t do this to me. Come on. We came this far and fought this hard all year.’ But I’m just so happy with what happened.”
As for the limited offense, Truckee senior catcher Luke Theis drove in the Wolverines’ first run with an infield hit in the third, while Pado delivered the only other RBI with a clutch base hit in the fourth that scored Ryan Smith from third.
“Yeah I don’t know, maybe it was just nerves today or something,and#8221; said Buranzon, who contributed a double to the right-center gap in the top of the seventh and#8211; only to be called out when it was ruled he left too soon when tagging to third. and#8220;But we fought through it and worked with what we had.and#8221;
Ellis, who looked more frazzled with every harmless pop fly off the bat of Truckee hitters, said his confidence in his quality starters never wavered.
“Baker and Buranzon are our one-two punch. That’s like Ali and Frasier right there. They just kept with it all year and carried us on their shoulders,and#8221; he said. “I’m kind of almost speechless right now. These kids, they did it. They poured their heart and soul and whatever they had into it this year, and so did my coaches. I’m proud of everyone. It was a team thing.”
The Wolverines posted a final season record of 29-6, while Elko finished 24-10.
As Truckee quickly learned, Elko did not intend on going down without a fight Saturday.
Facing elimination in the 9 a.m. game, the Indians threatened in the first and second innings off of Truckee starter Stein Retzlaff before breaking out with a five-run third. They had three hits in the inning, including a two-run single by Francisco Lievanos and a two-run triple by Schumaker.
The Wolverines got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third off of Elko’s starter, Kerns, when Pado drove in Chris Towle with a sacrifice fly. They narrowed the Elko lead to 5-2 in the fourth when Theis smashed an RBI double.
But that was as close as Truckee could get as the Indians struck for three more runs in the sixth after Pado came in to relieve Retzlaff with one out and two runners on. An opposite-field double by Tommy Headley plated two, while a Truckee throwing error let in another run.
Truckee scored twice in the bottom of the seventh and#8211; once off of Benevides and another off of Dalton Ridgway and#8211; to cut the final margin to 8-4.
After Theis singled to lead off the final inning, Andy McKechnie smoked an RBI double to the wall in left. Baker then drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs before Jackson Rohlf’s fly ball to right ended the game.
“Elko deserves to be here,and#8221; Ellis said. and#8220;They played their tails off. They stepped it up against us.”
In five and one-third innings pitched, Retzlaff gave up seven earned runs on six hits and four walks, with two strikeouts. Pado was charged with a run on one hit and one walk. Theis led Truckee offensively with two hits and an RBI.
Kerns earned the win for the Indians. He gave up two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out five.
View a photo gallery from the three-day state championship tournament at http://www.sierrasun.com/2012StateBaseball.
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