YAKIMA — The Bearcats have been leaning towards a small-ball approach on offense for the past few weeks.
It turned out to be just what they needed on Saturday.
W.F. West won a scrappy 9-6 contest against perennial playoff foil Ellensburg, surviving a few defensive lapses and getting a solid performance from pitcher Hunter Lutman in the third-place game of the 2A state baseball tournament at Yakima County Stadium.
“I think it’s a successful season,” Bearcat coach Bryan Bullock said. “Everyone wants to win a state title, but there’s only one team that can win a state championship. These guys set out to fill some big shoes at the beginning of the year, and I feel like they did a good job and got us back to the final four.”
The game was far from clean, with more errors (12 total) than hits (six) and more hit batters (eight total) than strikeouts (five).
That style of game played into the Bearcats’ strengths — namely, putting pressure on the defense, moving runners along and taking chances on the basepaths.
“We knew from the beginning, after seeing (Tumwater ace) Ryan Orr yesterday, this seemed like a pretty easy challenge for us, offensively,” Bearcat second baseman Braden Jones said. “We jumped on them early, barrels on the balls up — they just weren’t finding the ground. Then, finally, in the third or fourth inning, they started landing and we got a couple plays and kind of turned the game around.”
W.F. West scored five runs in the fourth inning to take control. Two runners reached on errors to start the inning, and Braden Jones laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to score Gavin Fugate from third. Logan Moore then scored on a wild pitch before Ross Kelley slashed a single up the middle to push across two more runs.
“The suicide squeeze early got us some momentum, and got them playing on their heels a little bit, and we were able to be aggressive on the basepaths,” Bullock said. “We got a couple clutch hits here and there and the next thing you know we’ve put up some runs.”
Jones — who reached base on two bunt singles and finished 3 for 4 — enjoyed it.
“I love it. The guy’s playing back, and you just lay one down the third base line,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. It really changes the momentum.”
The Bulldogs brought in relief pitcher Brayden Twaites, but it didn’t quite stop the bleeding. A walk and a hit batter set up a one-out fielder’s choice from leadoff man Brock Bunker that scored Kelley from third to make it 5-0.
Ellensburg scored in the fifth on a leadoff single from Johnny Rominger, a pair of errors, and a sacrifice fly from Joe Bugni to cut it to 5-1.
A grounder from Kelly pushed across a run in the fifth, and Jones — who had once again bunted his way to first — scored on a passed ball to make it 7-1. They added two more in the sixth on a pair of errors and an RBI single from Jones.
Ellensburg, however, finally got to Lutman in the sixth. The Bulldogs put across five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning with just one hit, drawing three walks and two hit batters — along with a trio of Bearcat errors — before Lutman was relieved by Riggs Westlund.
Westlund, who inherited loaded bases, got a strikeout to end the threat, and set down the Bulldogs in order in the seventh to wrap up the game.
Lutman was effective in his 5 2/3 innings, giving up just two hits with four hit batters and two strikeouts.
“He was really solid, even in the inning at the end,” Bullock said. “It’s hard to get six outs in an inning. Our defense let him down, and up until that point, he had been everything we had hoped he would be today.”
Jones echoed the sentiment.
“He pitched really well today,” he said. “He pounded the strike zone, and our defense did not help him, but he kept pounding the strike zone and getting outs. He did his best.”
W.F. West (19-8) finished second in the 2A Evergreen Conference and took third in the District 4 tournament. The Bearcats lost to league rival Tumwater, 6-3, in Friday’s state semifinals.
“We all wanted the state championship,” Jones said. “But third’s better than fourth. It’s good to end it on a win.”
The Bearcats lost to Ellensburg in the 2018 state semifinals, the 2017 state title game and the 2016 regional finals.
It was nice to wrap things up in a different fashion, Bullock said.
“It could have been a non-league game at the beginning of the year and it would have been nice to beat those guys,” he joked.