It was a historic day for Greater Trail baseball on Wednesday.
The West Kootenay Orioles captured the Washington State American Legion ‘A’ baseball championship in Richland, Wash. – the first Legion state title won by a Greater Trail Youth baseball team.
The talented group of players, which hail from Greater Trail, Ymir, Castlegar and Nelson, lost only one game in the regular season in capturing the Spokane Legion American Division title.
They went undefeated in Districts and the State tournament, but through it all, what impressed coach Jim Maniago most was the way the team came together off the field.
“It’s such a great bunch of kids to coach. As the week went on, they kind of got the feeling that ‘Hey we can do something here.’
“They really came together, they got along really well, they had a lot of fun together, and really became a pretty cohesive team, and I think that goes a long way.”
This year, it went all the way.
The U16 Orioles went undefeated through the state championship, winning five straight games, including a thrilling 14-6 final victory over the host Hanford Flames in the title game.
“Our pitching was good, and it’s deep, we have a lot of team speed, we killed teams with speed,” said Maniago. “Our defence was really good, it was a really well-rounded team. And just the depth, I can’t say it enough, we had 12 kids that could really play.”
Hanford had taken an early lead on West Kootenay in their round-robin match up, and did the same in the tournament finale. Aiden Garcia hit a two-run double in the bottom of the second inning to give the Flames an early 3-1 lead, and Hanford ace Troy Molnaa brought his best on the mound, shutting down the Orioles’ bats through three innings.
“The first game against Hanford was a good learning experience, where we got behind and were able to come back (and win 12-2),” said Maniago. “I think they (West Kootenay) gained a bit of confidence in themselves, so we didn’t seem as nervous as the last time we played them.”
Despite scoring just one run through three innings, patience paid off as West Kootenay struck for four runs in the fourth inning to take a 5-3 lead.
“Even though we were down, we made him (Molnaa) work. He threw 50 pitches after two innings, so even though we were down, we we were focusing on making him tired, and we were going to get to him, and once we got a couple batters on … and once we got to their bullpen, they were finished.”
The Orioles went up 6-3 in the top of the fifth inning, and a triple by Castlegar’s Jesco Knelson drove in two more runs, including the eventual game-winner to give the Orioles an 8-3 cushion heading into the bottom half of the inning.
But the Flames would not fizzle. Hanford plated three more runs off Trail starter Marshall Debruyn to make it a two-run game, chasing Debruyn for Nelson reliever Kelton Forte. With two outs and runners on, Forte pitched his way out of the inning to maintain the Orioles lead.
“Both he (Marshall) and Jake (Maniago) pitched very well the last two games,” said Maniago. “It was a really tight strike zone for both teams, which makes it so hard on the pitchers. Marshall was all around the strike zone and there was a lot of calls that didn’t go his way, but he competed and he got us into the fifth.”
Hanford threatened again in the bottom of the sixth. Trailing 8-6, with two out, the Flames put runners on the corners, and the go-ahead run at the plate. Forte bore down and forced the Hanford runner to ground out to kill the rally and cue up the Orioles final at bat.
West Kootenay left no doubt in the top of seven, as they did all week, the Orioles let their bats make the final statement.
Castlegar native Reid Gerrand and Knelson each reached base, and Forte singled to load the bases. Clean-up hitter Conner Stainer then pounded a double to score two and put the O’s up 10-6. After an out, Trail product Nathan Dann worked his way on, loading the bases for Ymir’s Chance Fisher, who brought in another run.
Jake Maniago then stepped up and belted another double to score two more for a 13-6 lead. A fielder’s choice scored another West Kootenay run for the 14-6 final, as Forte shut down the Flames bats and closed out the bottom of the inning for the victory.
“You knew as soon as he (Forte) came in that they weren’t going to get any runs. He was throwing strikes, throwing hard, and just came in and shut it down.”
Debruyn threw four and 2/3 innings giving up six runs on six hits and three strikeouts, and was named tournament MVP. Forte worked two and 1/3 innings giving up three hits and no runs, while striking out two.
Knelson, Stainer, and Gerrand had two hits for the Orioles with Knelson and Stainer knocking in three runs, and Maniago two RBIs.