Team has chances but does not cash in to reach state
The Spokane Blue Devils played the numbers game all year, hoping that a dozen or so bodies would get them where they wanted to go.
The gamble played itself out last Sunday in the American Legion baseball regionals at Al K. Jackson Field where the team that is sprinkled with four Cheney players lost both games and saw their season come to an end.
After an 11-6 win Saturday night over the regular season champion Spokane Bandits in their opening game, the Blue Devils lost Sunday morning to the top-seeded team from Bellingham 11-8 and then 5-3 to Yakima.
The Blue Devils finished 7-13 in Spokane AAA league play and 18-32-1 overall.
Defensive lapses in the first game Sunday, coupled with leaving runners on base spelled trouble for the Blue Devils, head coach Tony Byrne said. A win versus Bellingham would have punched their ticket to state, but if not they’d have a second chance versus Yakima.
“Boy it was a great game,” Byrne said of his team’s last-chance contest where the winner went to state and the loser, home. “It was a fun game to coach and I’d imagine a fun game to play in.”
Yakima had runners on that didn’t score because of some good defense. “It was a well-played game early, but I think in the seventh it started breaking down a little bit,” Byrne said of the second of a pair of nine-inning games, rare in Legion ball but not in playoffs.
Byrne predicted most of the runs in games would be scored after the seventh because of the fatigue factor. Yakima scored twice in both the seventh and eighth while Spokane got their runs in the eighth and ninth.
Drew Henry scored the Blue Devils’ first run in the eighth following a single up the middle, advancing to second on an Austin Harding sacrifice and scoring on an RBI single from Chris Downey. Henry was stranded on second in the ninth following his single.
Tyler Gustafson also singled in the ninth and got to third where he was also left on base.
“If you would have said we’d have the guys we had up at the end of the game with the bases loaded and a chance to win I would have taken it,” Byrne said. “I would bet if it were to happen again they would have come through.”
The first inning in the Bellingham game saw the visitors score four, and errors played a part, Byrne said. “Our outfielders miscommunicated on a ball and there was an error in the infield.”
Bellingham nursed a 6-4 lead into the top of the seventh when the visitors got to starter Austin Harding for four runs, including a two-run home run to straightaway center by Tanner Olson that helped break the game open.
The difference between Saturday night, where the Blue Devils beat the Bandits, and Sunday, “I don’t think they realized how big of a deal it was,” Byrne said. “Then they started thinking, ‘this is for state, this is for state,’” and the nerves set in.
Bellingham had the problem too, Byrne said, with miscues leading to two runs in the bottom of the inning for Spokane.
The Blue Devils would try to rally late, scoring once in the bottom of the eighth and another three in the ninth. “We had chances to win but we also didn’t play good defense; you score eight runs you should win,” Byrne said.
Tristan Flippo, seeing rare duty due to a sore knee, and playing third base, had a pair of hits and scored twice, once in the eighth and again in the ninth. Henry had a single, got on with a fielder’s choice and then a walk, but was stranded on base three times.
The Blue Devils had reasonable success against the top team in Spokane’s AAA league. “Our kids knew they had a chance to beat them,” Byrne said. “We beat them in Yakima, we beat them earlier in the season.”
“They were pretty focused, there was a confidence in that deal,” Byrne said. Plus, the Blue Devils had some time off before Saturday’s game as Byrne opted not to schedule practices. “I thought rest was more important.”
The Bandits made some mistakes and the Blue Devils put up runs, six of them in fact in the second inning, and never looked back. Henry, Gustafson and Flippo all scored in the win.
“More than our pitching it was our defense in the first game and in reality the second game,” Byrne said. “Just throwing the ball to the wrong spot.”
“We had 11 guys all summer so in reality we were kind of out of arms all summer,” Byrne said.
Following the Yakima game Byrne told the team that early on he thought the Blue Devils would be a state tournament team. That was not the case early, however. “At the first practice I thought no way,” he said.
“Basically we’re going to go at it with 11 or 12 players - and one of them is on one leg - to get where we got; these guys ought to be proud of what they did.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.