Baseball finishes second in 2013 GNAC tournament


By JARYD CLINE, staff reporter

After breezing past Day 1 of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament with wins over Montana State Billings and Western Oregon University, the Wildcats were well on their way to capturing the inaugural GNAC tournament championship.

The Wildcats weren’t able to end Western Oregon’s reign in the GNAC however, losing twice on Day 2 and giving up double digit runs in both games as the Wolves won their 12th consecutive GNAC title.

“When you get to the end and you’re that close and you lose… it was difficult for the guys and everybody,” head coach Desi Storey said.

When playing in the round robin double-elimination tournament format, teams play each other once on the first day.

The team that loses twice on the first day is eliminated, and the final two teams battle it out on the second day for the championship.

After losing to WOU 7-0 in its first game, Montana State Billings faced elimination in their second game against the Wildcats.

One bad inning for the Yellowjackets pitching staff led the Wildcats to a 6-5 win.  MSUB got on the scoreboard early after some first-inning doubles that gave them a 1-0 advantage over the Wildcats.

The Yellowjackets increased their lead after third baseman Colter Sternhagen hit a solo homerun to lead off the fourth inning.

A fielding error in the bottom half of the inning proved costly for the Yellowjackets, which led to a six-run inning for the Wildcats.

After the fielding error left runners on first and second, freshman left fielder Kramer Ferrell loaded the bases up after safely reaching first on his bunt, which went right back to the pitcher.

Junior shortstop Joel Johnson put the Wildcats on the board with his RBI single and junior centerfielder Joe Castro’s sacrifice fly tied the game up at two apiece.

The hits continued for Central, junior second basemanJusten Weigel singled to left field and GNAC RBI leader Kyle Sani cleared the bases with his three-run double down the left field line, pushing the Wildcat lead to 6-2.

 

MSUB threatened the lead but never took control of the game, scoring two runs in the fifth after junior Wildcat pitcher Skye Adams hit a batter with the bases loaded and balked, giving each MSUB base runner a free base.

The Yellowjackets picked up one more in the ninth but were never able to recover from the huge Wildcat fourth inning. Weigel, senior third baseman Marc Garza andSani, the Wildcats one, two and three hitters each went 2-for-4 in the game and Central outhit the Yellowjackets 8-7.

The Wildcats faced tournament favorite WOU in game two after they eliminated MSUB in Game One.  The Wildcats met WOU star pitcher A.J. Burke. Burke, who had thrown 17 innings of shutout ball with 18 strikeouts against the Wildcats this season, had another strong outing against the Wildcats. Junior starting pitcher JoeArlt had one of his best outings of the season, giving up just five hits and striking out seven en route to his first shutout of the season, a 3-0 Wildcat defeat.

Burke was able to hold the Wildcats scoreless for the first eight innings until Ferrell led off the top of the ninth with a double. Junior right fielder Ethan Sterkel was able to break the tie after his RBI single scored Ferrell. Burke was pulled after giving up the single, finishing with nine strikeouts and giving up just six hits. Later in the inningSterkel scored after a wild pitch followed by Garza hittingin the games last run after singling up the middle. Arltwent one-two-three in the ninth and Garza, Ferrell andSterkel hit 2-4 respectively. The Wildcats needed just one more win to capture the inaugural GNAC tournament title.

The Wildcats would get two more chances to defeat the team that has given them the most trouble this year for the right to bring the first GNAC tournament title trophy to Ellensburg. However the Wolves were just too balanced as they beat the Wildcats with solid hitting and great work from the mound. The Wildcat pitching staff and lineup struggled to find their groove on the second day, dropping both games by the scores of 2-11, and 2-10, and losing the inaugural GNAC tournament.

 

“We played two really good games to get there [to the championship],” Storey said. “Skye threw a good game … and Joe threw a great game Thursday night to get us to the championship.”

Western Oregon looked like the dominant team they have all year, outhitting Central 25-15 over the final two games in the tournament. Both WOU starters pitched eight strong innings of baseball, allowing just two runs each between them.

Playing in his last two games as a Wildcat, the likely candidate for GNAC player of the year, Kyle Sani went a combined 3-6 with one run and one RBI. Sani finishes the season leading the entire NCAA Division II in home runs with 18 and tied for 13th with 54 RBIs. Sani also broke the Central and GNAC record for homeruns this season.

“I don’t know if we can replace him, at least not with one guy,” Storey said. “You know, just a phenomenal year.”

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