They were picked to finished fifth in the South Puget Sound League North Division, yet managed to advance to state for a third straight year.
That didn’t make Saturday’s outcome at Heidelberg Park in Tacoma any easier to swallow for the Tahoma High baseball team.
Looking to move once again into the Elite Eight, the Bears squandered a late lead and fell 4-3 to upstart Heritage in eight innings in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“We were one strike away from winning that game,” lamented Tahoma coach Russ Hayden. “It’s a hard pill for me to swallow – we had that game.”
Indeed, the Bears did.
Tahoma (16-7) clung to a 3-1 lead with two outs and two Heritage runners on base in the bottom of seventh inning, but couldn’t get it done. Heritage’s Mike McDonald, facing a 2-2 count, tied the game at 3-3 with a single up the middle, scoring Ian Miller and Michael Blake.
In the eighth, Heritage’s Miller delivered a weakly-hit single between shortstop and third, scoring Kyle Grissom and sealing Tahoma’s fate.
“It was one of those seeing-eye hits,” Hayden said, “but in the right spot.”
Tahoma took a 2-1 lead into the fourth inning on an RBI ground out by Jerad Casper, scoring Thomas Hammett. The Bears pushed their lead to 3-1 in the fifth on an RBI single from Bryce Niemi, scoring Chris Marangon.
After that, however, Tahoma’s offense went south. Heritage pitcher Miller managed just two strikeouts through the game’s first five innings, then collected five more during the final three.
“I think the pressure just got to (us),” Hayden said.
Marangon struck out nine Heritage batters in five innings of work and added a pair of hits at the plate. Kyle Conwell also delivered with the bat, going 3 for 4.
But in the end, Tahoma simply couldn’t keep Heritage’s Miller and Blake, the team’s No. 2 and 3 hitters, off the bases. They combined for eight of Heritage’s 12 hits.
Despite the loss, Hayden remained impressed by a group from which not that much was expected.
“The kids battled. I admire that,” he said. “I told them, they have nothing to hang their heads about. They were picked to finish fifth in the league and they got four, five playoff games in.”