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Baseball: Walks undo Wolves' playoff upset bid
KENT — South Kitsap coach Jim Fairweather embraces the underdog mentality.
And for a second consecutive year in the West Central/Southwest Bi-District baseball tournament, the Wolves appeared poised to knock off the No. 1 seed.
But an inability to throw strikes — South pitchers combined to walk eight batters and hit two others — derailed those hopes in a 5-3 loss Tuesday night against Puyallup at Kent Memorial Park.
The Wolves now face a winner-to-state, loser-out contest at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Kentridge at Heritage Park in Puyallup.
For a while, it appeared South (12-5) would contend for the tournament championship Saturday. Sophomore Dylan Garcia, who replaced injured catcher Alex Sablan in the lineup, struck out to lead off the fourth but reached first base on a wild pitch from left-handed starter Matt Becker. Designated hitter Tyler Ludlow later followed with a one-out walk and outfielder Tom Simpson reached first base during the ensuing at-bat when Becker bobbled a sacrifice bunt that scored Garcia. Ludlow and Simpson then scored on a two-out single by shortstop Vince Sablan.
Becker threw 41 pitches during the inning and looked to be on the brink of departing. Instead, the Vikings (19-3) chased South starter Josh Johnston from the game in the bottom half of the inning. With the bases loaded, Becker drew a walk on a 3-2 count. Third baseman Lee Larson then followed with a two-RBI single, and a third run scored on a throwing error. Fairweather replaced Johnston with Michael Wood, who retired the final two hitters after hitting outfielder Joey Crunkilton with a pitch to end the inning.
Puyallup only had three hits, which Fairweather attributed to Johnston’s changeup. But three of the Vikings’ five runs, including one with the bases loaded that plated Becker in the third inning, came on walks.
“Josh baffled them, but you can’t put guys on,” Fairweather said. “That eats at you. You can’t defend it.”
The Wolves had two more opportunities against reliever Gabe Ihrig. With two outs in the sixth inning and the bases loaded, senior Mike Nelson hit a line drive to left field that was caught on a dive by Tyler McDowell.
South posed another threat in the seventh when Ludlow hit a single past shortstop Levi Jordan. Pinch-hitter Cody Wolfe then doubled to right-center field off Ihrig, but Ludlow was thrown out at home plate to end the game.
“He could not pick me up,” said Fairweather, adding that he signaled for Ludlow to stop at third base. “That’s totally on me.”
As difficult as the compounding factors were, Fairweather said the Wolves simply have to “flush it.”
For motivation, he is turning toward what he perceives as a lack of respect for his team.
“Nobody believes in us,” Fairweather said. “That’s for sure.
“We play baseball on this side of the water.”
* Alex Sablan was injured his right leg during the first inning and did not return. He is not certain about the severity of the injury.
“As I was running out a ground ball to shortstop, my leg buckled and I fell on top of it,” Sablan said. “Hopefully, it is nothing too serious.”
West Central/Southwest Bi-District Tournament
Puyallup 5, South Kitsap 3
South Kitsap 000 300 0 — 3 6 1
Puyallup 001 400 x — 5 3 1
Josh Johnston, Michael Wood (4) and Alex Sablan, Mike Nelson (1). Matt Becker, Gabe Ihrig (5) and Brenden Illies.
Leading hitters—Daryn Atkinson (SK) 2-2 BB, Vince Sablan (SK) 1-3 HBP 2 RBI, Lee Larson (P) 1-2 2 BB 2 RBI.