High School Sports

Chowchilla can't steal win against Union

EASTON -- Kirk Delmas didn't waste any time. The Chowchilla coach knew he had just saw a great game even if his team came up short.

"I'm not sure there was a better game in the Valley today," Delmas said. "I know there were probably a lot of good ones. But I can't imagine a better one than this."

It's hard to argue.

Washington Union (30-3) scored on a fluke play in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat Chowchilla 2-1 in the second round of the Central Section Division IV playoffs on Friday afternoon at Ellis Field.

Chowhcilla's Tyler Cook was a pitch away from escaping another jam.

The junior left-hander had frustrated Washington Union hitters all day.

However, a walk, an error and an intentional walk allowed Washington to load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the eighth.

Cook then went to work striking out Yafett Thomas and John Hobbs for the first two outs.

Cook appeared to get out of the jam when he struck out Jacob Phillips on a curveball in the dirt, but the ball bounced past catcher Tyler Badger. Badger might have had a shot of throwing out Phillips at first base, but he fired wildly at Cook covering home allowing the winning run to score.

As Washington Union pitcher Andrew Rich crossed home plate and went off to celebrate with his teammates, many Chowchilla players dropped to their knees in disbelief.

Their season suddenly over.

"Our kids battled the whole way," said Delmas, whose team finished with a 15-15 record. "If you have to go out, this isn't a bad way to do it."

Chowchilla gave the second-ranked Division IV team in the state everything it wanted.

It was the fourth time the two teams played this year with Washington Union winning every time.

That's why Cook knew he had to be on his game. Both pitchers made the pitches when they had to be made.

Chowchilla's lone run came on a solo homer by Matt Ruckman in the top of the first inning. Ruckman turned on a fastball and launched it over the left-field fence.

Chowchilla had other chances against Hill.

Ruckman and Michael York both singled to lead off the third inning to put runners on second and third with no outs. One out later, Chowchilla had the bases loaded and couldn't score.

Hill struck out Badger and then Ruckman was tagged out trying to steal home.

Hill settled down and retired 10 straight hitters at one point until getting out of another bases-loaded jam unscathed in the top of the seventh inning.

"It's a credit to Andrew," Delmas said. "He's a great pitcher and he battled great out there. I can't say enough about Tyler either. His last three starts have been great."

Cook's performance was even more impressive when you consider he's been sick the last four days. His parents took him to the doctor's office to get a B-12 shot Friday morning and he even threw up a couple times during the game.

He still struck out 12 hitters and gave his team a great opportunity to pull off the upset.

"I had the shot, took a couple pills, I just tried to tough it out," Cook said. "I threw up a couple times. Other than that, I was OK."

Washington Union finally got to Cook for its first run in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Rich singled to start the inning and two outs later, Cook had picked him off first base. However, Rich beat the throw to second base for the stolen base. Thomas then lined a triple to right-center field to tie the game at 1-1.

Rich was again the sparkplug in the bottom of the eighth when he drew a leadoff walk. Marc Mendoza then hit a groundball to third, but Kyle Espinola's throw to first was in the dirt and Washington Union suddenly had runners on first and third and no outs.

An intentional walk loaded the bases and set up the bizarre ending two outs later.

"We had to press the issue today," Delmas said. "That's why we tried to steal home with Ruckman early in the game. We've probably stolen home seven times this year.

"We had to press the issue in that last inning by loading the bases. It just didn't work out today."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.