Incline baseball | Highlanders sweep state; win first championship since 1975 | SierraSun.com

Incline baseball | Highlanders sweep state; win first championship since 1975

Incline baseball coach Jeff Clouthier told his players from Day 1 that they had the talent to win state. He just wasn’t sure they believed him.

At some point during Incline’s dominant late-season run — during which the team won 12 of its last 13 games — the players began to believe it themselves.

The Highlanders swept through the Division III state championship tournament in Las Vegas to win the school’s second state baseball title, and first since 1975.

“To go in and win it all was great. It’s been a long time coming for Incline High,” Clouthier said. “It was a well-played tournament. Our guys really came through.”

Entering the four-team, double-elimination state tournament as the No. 1 seed from the North, the Highlanders set the tone Thursday with an 11-1 mercy-rule win over Needles, the No. 2 Southern seed.

Still fresh after the five-inning beat-down, Incline defeated Yerington, the No. 2 Northern seed, 6-3 on Friday to advance to the title game. Yerington, meanwhile, rebounded from the loss with a 13-3 win over Needles to earn a shot at revenge against Incline in the championship.

Saturday’s state final between the league foes went down to the wire, with Incline clinging to a one-run lead after the Lions scored once in the top of the seventh. Senior right-hander Jack Clouthier then slammed the door on the Yerington rally with a strikeout — his ninth of the game — to clinch the state title.

The party was on.

“It was awesome,” coach Clouthier said. “Everything just clicked.”

The Highlanders, who posted a final record of 22-6 overall, heated up near the end of the season and never cooled off. The team won six of its last seven regular-season games and all six in postseason play, sweeping through both regionals and state.

“I think our last regular-season series against Battle Mountain showed the guys that they could beat anybody,” said coach Clouthier, whose Highlanders were seeded third out of four teams in the regional tournament. “I think our sweep at regionals gave them even more confidence, and they just continued their great play.”

The coach said Incline’s rock-solid pitching and sure-handed defense were the difference-makers in the end. Hitting was never an issue, as the team peppered the ball from the start of the season and finished with a collective batting average of .388.

Incline’s senior pitching duo of Tommy Thompson and Clouthier was lights out in the state tournament. The two combined to allow only six runs on 14 hits, with 25 strikeouts.

The lopsided win over Needles in five innings Thursday helped the Highlanders preserve their arms. Clouthier pitched only four innings in the contest and Thompson threw one, leaving both with plenty of gas left in the tank.

In that opening game, Incline exploded for eight runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and added three more in the fifth to end it on the 10-run mercy rule. Senior first baseman Ben Snyder, who caught fire offensively in the postseason, delivered the walk-off, RBI single in the fifth.

Senior third baseman Cole Steinberg was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs, Thompson was 3-for-3 with a double and RBI, and Clouthier was 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Snyder and junior Owen Graffis had two hits apiece, and Nicky Witty and Tristan Summers each drove in one run. Alex Barnard and Bryan Banuelos also recorded a hit apiece.

Clouthier, who started on the mound, scattered three hits and gave up one run while striking out five. Thompson pitched one scoreless inning with two strikeouts.

As they did in the regional tournament, the Highlanders defeated Yerington starter Dakota Aiazzi on Friday. Incline jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and answered Yerington’s two-run third with a three-run rally in the bottom of the inning to take a 5-2 lead. Incline scored once more in the fourth and held Yerington scoreless over the final two innings.

Thompson recorded nine strikeouts while scattering six hits and a walk in a seven-inning complete game.

“Tommy threw really well. He kept them in check and off-balance,” coach Clouthier said.

Steinberg again had two hits and an RBI, while Summers drove in two runs on one hit, Snyder had a double and RBI, and Barnard drove in one run. Thompson, Graffis, Clouthier and Witty each contributed a hit.

The Highlanders eked out just enough offense against pitchers Aiazzi and Daniel Sciarani in the championship game.

Clouthier led off the first inning with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Thompson. The Lions briefly tied the score with a run in the top of the third, but Incline answered in the bottom of the inning with another RBI off the bat of Thompson. Incline scored its last run in the fifth when Clouthier singled and stole second and third before Thompson knocked him in.

The Lions opened the seventh with a double that came in to score, but they could not muster any more off of Clouthier, who finished the year with a final record of 8-2, with 91 strikeouts in 57.2 innings.

While Thompson recorded all three RBIs for the Highlanders, Steinberg capped his state performance with two more hits — giving him six in the tournament — Clouthier had two hits, and Barnard and Summers had one hit apiece.

Clouthier held the Lions to just five hits in seven innings with no walks and nine strikeouts.

“I told them on the first day of the season they had the talent to win state,” coach Clouthier said. “But they had to believe it themselves and go out and make it happen.”

Top Southern seed Lincoln County went two and out of the state tournament, losing 7-6 to Yerington and 6-5 to Needles.