It wasn't the prettiest of games, but in the end Sunnyside Christian got the job done and will now represent the Greater Columbia 1B League in the baseball playoffs.
Facing the Lyle-Wishram Cougars on their home field Monday afternoon, the Knights eked out an 8-7 victory in a District play-in game. Sunnyside Christian will now open postseason play this coming Thursday afternoon.
In knocking off Lyle/Wishram yesterday, the key for the Knights was to put the ball into play and then take advantage of what the Cougars gave them. As it turned out the visitors yielded plenty, mainly by way of a slew of wild pitches and passed balls.
Fittingly, it was the Cougs' inability to hang on to the ball that allowed Sunnyside Christian to score the winning run in the bottom of the last inning.
Knotted at 7-7, the Knights mounted their winning rally with Drew Puterbaugh lashing a one-out single right up the gut. After stealing second, Lyle/Wishram relief pitcher Justin Mills tried picking Puterbaugh off, but his throw bounced into the dirt and bounded into center field, allowing Puterbaugh to scoot over to third. A couple of pitches later Mills delivered a throw low and outside, which the Cougar catcher was unable to get a glove on. Puterbaugh raced home with the running run before the catcher could get the ball back to Mills at the dish.
In defeating Lyle/Wishram the Knights went all the way with their pitching ace, sophomore Wyatt Hoff. Even though it wasn't his sharpest outing of the spring, giving up nine hits, four walks and plunking three batters with pitches, Hoff stiffened as the game went deeper. He, perhaps, shined the brightest when he retired the side in the top of the seventh to keep the game squared at seven-all.
Sunnyside Christian Coach Tyler Alseth also gave Hoff, who improved his season record to 4-2, kudos for his performance in the top of the third.
"Lyle loaded the bases on us with no outs that inning," said Alseth, explaining that Hoff picked up one of his six strikeouts that frame and induced a harmless grounder. Hoff would have escaped the jam altogether had the Knights not committed one of their two errors that inning, but even so, "...he got us out of it with giving up just one run," Alseth said.
Alseth also praised the play of his catcher, Puterbaugh, who threw out two would-be base stealers in critical situations.
The one big inning Lyle/Wishram had yesterday occurred in the second, when the Cougs plated three runs, thanks to two walks, a hit batter and a pivotal two-run double off the bat of Mills.
Sunnyside Christian forged the early lead by pushing across a single run in the bottom of the first. Brandon Moore drew a two-out walk and scampered home on a double by Puterbaugh, the first of his two hits in the game.
After the Cougars' three-run uprising in the top of the second, the Knights responded in the home half of the second with two scores of their own to tie it at 3-3. Brandon Broersma, who was 2-for-2 with a pair of walks yesterday, had a single and Matt Moore drew a walk. Both ended up scoring on wild pitches.
Single tallies by Lyle/Wishram in both the third and fourth frames put the Cougars up 5-3, but again Sunnyside Christian came storming back, tying it at 5-5 with two runs in the bottom of the fourth. Broersma, again, got things rolling, this time by drawing a walk. He stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch, then scored when Jackson Haak put a ball into play on the right side of the field. Haak got thrown out trying to move up to second, but Matt Moore reignited the rally by singling his way aboard, stealing second and then advancing two bases on a pair of passed balls.
The two clubs exchanged runs in the fifth and sixth innings to move the score to 7-7. Brant Bosma had the big hit, a double, in the fifth for the Knights, and Broersma did likewise in the sixth.
That set up Puterbaugh's game winning heroics in the bottom of the seventh.
"We had eight hits in the game and only three strikeouts, which meant we were putting a lot of balls into play," said Alseth. "That was big for us.
"I was pretty pleased, too, that we only committed two errors.
"It was exciting right down to the end. The kids got the job done. Now we'll see what we can do this coming Thursday," he added.
The Thursday, May 10, District tourney opener, a loser-out affair, will be played at 3 p.m. on the Sunnyside High School diamond. The Knights' opponents will be the Oakville Acorns, the No. 2 seed from District 4. Admission costs at the SHS field this Thursday are set at $5 for adults, and $4 for students and seniors.
A win by the Knights on Thursday will advance Sunnyside Christian to a Regional winner-to-state, loser-out game this coming Saturday in Elma.