CASTLE ROCK — Moved up due to rain in the forecast, and after pitching its third arm already in the third inning, the Tenino baseball team would have to once again reach into its bag of tricks to prolong its season in a couple of loser-out games in Castle Rock Friday.
A 10-3 loss to Elma moved the Beavers to the consolation bracket of the 1A District 4 tournament, the Beavers didn’t get off to a hot start in either of its do-or-die games, but found a way to come up with a 8-6 victory over Eatonville in the first game, before falling in extras to King’s Way Christian in the following winner-to-regional game, 8-7.
Despite coming up just short, the Beavers, like they have all season, rebounded to nearly steal away their first regional bid since 2016.
“It’s a resilient group,” Beavers coach Ryan Schlesser said. “We’re young. We challenged them after Tuesday to get tougher, and they did. We battled. That’s exactly what we’ve done all year, we went down early, and just found a way to scratch and claw back in, and we were right there.”
Against Eatonville, Tenino fell behind 6-1 heading into the fourth inning. Knowing that he would need to save some arms for a second game if they won, Schlesser went through two pitchers before Cody Strawn finally settled into the game on the mound.
All the while, a six-run fourth inning would be enough to steal away the win.
Back-to-back walks gave the Beavers two base runners, and a sacrifice bunt put them both in scoring position with just one out to start the inning. A groundout from Will Feltus was enough to push one run across, and then with two outs, the Beavs strung together back-to-back singles, a walk, and another single to score a couple more runs, and before the Cruisers had any time to react, Tenino took its first lead.
After adding one more insurance run in the sixth, it wouldn’t really matter what the Beaver offense did the rest of the game, as Strawn dealt a 4 ⅔ inning shutout in crunchtime innings.
The sophomore struck out four and didn’t allow a hit in a dominant showing out of the bullpen to extend the Beavers season for one more game, and eliminate the Cruisers.
But after a familiar start, Tenino couldn’t quite recreate its magic from the first game.
Against King’s Way Christian, the Beavers fell behind 5-2 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning. Though Tenino responded with five runs in the fourth to take its first lead, the Knights scored the last three runs, with the final coming off a walk in the top of the eighth inning, to take the victory.
The Beavers ended up stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, failing to score a run in what would have been walk-off fashion.
Launching a ball deep into left field, Austin Gonia’s shot was snagged on the tip of Knights’ left fielder Brayden Disbrow’s glove, saving what would have been a game-winning RBI.
“We had our opportunities to get it in,” Schlesser said. “I thought we did everything in our power to do it, the ball just didn’t bounce our way, that’s baseball.”
Then in the eighth, the Beavers’ rising pitch counts across most of its staff hurt them. Strawn threw two scoreless innings in relief, but 10 walks contributed to several runs, and the game-winning run in the top of the eighth for the Knights.
Strawn finished the day pitching a combined 6 ⅔ innings with five strikeouts, no runs given up, and just one hit allowed. He also went 2 for 3 with three RBIs in the second game, and 1 for 3 with an RBI in the first game.
The sophomore is one of six freshmen or sophomores that started regularly for the Beavers.
“He’s a dude for us,” Schlesser said. “I don’t really like him throwing that much, but if you’re good, let’s roll. He’s a gamer, he comes out every day ready to go.”
Though the season ended earlier than Tenino wanted it to, it was still one to remember for an up-and-coming squad in the 1A Evergreen Conference. The Beavers finished second in league to Montesano, and actually handed the Bulldogs their first league losses since 2016 in the final series of the year.
Tenino lost just one league series all season to Elma, and took series wins over Eatonville, Hoquiam, and Montesano.
All the while, the Beavers had just one player that had ever seen a district game, back in 2019.
“The older guys stepped up and became leaders,” Schlesser said. “They understood what we needed to do every day, and the younger guys came up clutch.”
Schlesser also reflected on his seniors, who saw their 2020 season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and their 2021 season shortened, a year in which they won just one game.
“They’re awesome,” Schlesser said. “Shawn Nicholson and Kristian Copstead, they’ve been awesome for us. Shawny has been with us for four years and he’s what we want from a guy. He comes every day ready to go and busts his butt. That’s what we want out here with baseball players and that's what he gives us.”
And though it hurts, Schlesser also said that this year’s experience, from a game one extra innings defeat to Rochester, to a last game extra innings defeat to King’s Way, will only motivate his guys for next season as they take the lessons learned into a new season.
“There’s nothing to hang our hats about this year,” Schlesser said. “We battled all year, and we overcame a lot of adversity. Guys getting hurt, I’m proud of those guys, we had a hell of a year, and sometimes, the ball just doesn’t roll your way, and that’s ok. It is what it is.”