Battle-tested North Lake Tahoe Lakers reach state baseball tourney
First-year Coach Jesse Brown has spent all season letting his players make mistakes, work through errors, and allowing the team to find its own way through difficult situations.
The approach paid off in a big way during last week’s Class 2A Northern League tournament in Battle Mountain as a resilient Lakers squad rallied from deficits in two games to finish as league runners-up and earn a berth into this weekend’s state tournament.
“We were able to get farther than we have before because of our coaching,” said junior captain Koby Mattson on the team’s season. “He knows the game and he knows how to teach all levels of the game. Definitely with the mindset, it’s a mental game and he’s been helping us with the mental process.”
For Brown, the season has been about teaching the players a different approach to the game.
“I coach this game so they can be successful at the next level, not this level. I want you to execute what you’re trying to do on the field,” Brown said. “Come up with a plan and execute the plan, and if you do it right, good things are going to happen … you teach the game and winning takes care of itself.”
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
Brown’s influence was evident in the opening round of the league tournament on May 11, against West Wendover.
The Lakers trailed 7-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning and had been limited to two hits on offense. Instead of becoming frustrated and giving in, something Brown said the team used to do, North Tahoe mounted a furious comeback to steal the game from the Wolverines.
“Nope, we’re not done yet,” said Brown on the dugouts attitude heading into the bottom of the sixth. “We’ve got six outs — here we go.”
Lakers Sophomore Kevin Tidd started the inning off with a single. West Wendover then walked the next three batters to put the Lakers on the board. A passed ball allowed for another North Tahoe run. Junior Sam Sheridan then hit a two-run single to make the score 7-4.
After batting through the order, Tidd came back to the plate and hit a two-out single to score another run. Senior Gary Payne doubled to right field in the next at-bat to add two more runs. Junior Koby Mattson then gave the Lakers a 9-7 lead in the next at-bat with a single to left field.
“I’m just seeing if I can hit barrel, that’s all I can do,” Mattson said on his timely hitting. “If I can hit barrel it’s going to find a gap somewhere.”
West Wendover hit a two-out home run in the top of the seventh, and then hit a double to put the tying run in scoring position. But junior pitcher Joseph Lanza forced a ground ball in the next at-bat to give the Lakers a 9-8 win and send the team to the winner’s bracket final of the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
Payne, Mattson and Sheridan finished the game with two RBIs apiece. Tidd and junior Eli Snyder had the Lakers’ only extra-base hits with both players hitting a double.
‘A MOMENT AT A TIME’
North Tahoe’s resiliency is something Brown said he’s worked to instill in the team.
“We have a lot of talent. They just needed a little direction, a little push here and there, and to learn the game a little bit better,” said Brown.
“It’s direction. It’s believing you can do it, taking it a moment at a time, a pitch at a time, an at-bat at a time, and not thinking three games down the road. It’s trying to stay in the moment and learning to play the game like an adult … it’s learning to take the game in stride and to approach it differently.”
With limited arms in the pitching staff, Brown said he wasn’t worried about defeating No. 1 Yerington, and instead was eying the following game where the Lakers could seal a trip to the state tournament. Offensively, North Tahoe again came alive late in the game, but it would be too little as the Lions rolled to a 19-8 win after five innings.
Snyder led the team, going 3 for 3 from the plate with 4 RBIs. Mattson finished with two doubles.
ON TO THE NEXT LEVEL
The defeat sent the Lakers into the loser’s bracket final against West Wendover, who had defeated Incline 4-3. After a rain delay, the teams took the field on Saturday afternoon with the winner advancing to the league championship and earning a berth into the state tournament.
The team again started the game slowly on offense, trailing 1-0 going into the bottom of the fifth inning. The Lakers evened the game off a two-out double to right field by Lanza, but the Wolverines retook the lead the next inning, scoring on a wild pitch.
North Tahoe loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame behind a pair of walks and a single. Snyder then came to the plate and launched a fly ball beyond the center field fence for a grand slam and a 5-2 Lakers lead.
Two errors and a walk allowed West Wendover to pull within a run in the final inning, but Payne got a strikeout for the final out.
North Tahoe faced Yerington for the league title later that day, and were defeated 16-1 after four innings.
The Lakers will face the Southern League champion, Lincoln County, at Reed High School in Sparks, Nev., to open the Class 2A Nevada State High School Championship Tournament.
First pitch was slated for 4 p.m. Thursday, May 17 (Results not available at press time).
Lincoln County comes into the tournament having gone undefeated in league play this year.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Truckee Sun. Contact him at email@example.com.