North Central continued its 21st-century baseball dynasty by blending together a sharp performance by a sophomore pitcher, four crucial plays from an unheralded shortstop, and a bit of righteous indignation from a call that didn’t go its way.
Sophomore Brett Richardson (2-0) pitched shutout ball for the final three innings and shortstop Sean Carnahan started and ended a five-run rally in the sixth inning as NC edged East Valley 5-4 in Saturday’s District 8 4A title game at Avista Stadium.
NC (16-7) qualified for the State 4A tournament for the fourth time in five years. The Indians also won the district title in 2000, and lost district championship games in 2001 and 2002.
NC will open state play at 1 p.m. Saturday against District 5/6 runner-up Southridge (15-9). The site is to be determined because Gonzaga University is playing at Avista the same day.
EV (18-4), the Greater Spokane League champion, can earn the No. 2 berth to state by defeating Shadle Park (14-9) at 7 Tuesday night at Avista. The EV-SP winner will open state play at 4 p.m. Saturday against District 5/6 champion Kennewick (19-3).
EV senior ace Jesse Lehman had the championship game in hand, leading 4-0 and having allowed just two hits through five innings.
But NC’s demeanor changed when EV’s Grant Bruscoe was called safe on a two-out infield single in the fifth. The first-base umpire, screened on the play, deferred to his home-plate partner. Bruscoe appeared to have been tagged on the foot, but NC lost that argument.
Richardson bore down and struck out Troy Roberg to leave Bruscoe at first base.
“When they came off the field after that half of the inning, the kids were fired up,” said Indians coach Scott Harmon.
Carnahan began the turnaround by beating out a grounder to shortstop. The infield hit started a series of eight consecutive Indians reaching base.
Matt Oye’s single brought home Carnahan and ended the shutout. The second run crossed when Lehman (7-1) allowed Logan Davenport’s RBI single on a 0-2 pitch. Lehman also had two strikes on Billy Fletcher when he hit him with a bases-loaded pitch, scoring the third run.
Lehman nearly caught Greg Stanifer’s ensuing squeeze bunt, but the tying run crossed with nobody out and the bases still loaded.
Lehman recorded two outs with a forceout at home plate and a strikeout, but spark plug Carnahan came up for the second time in the inning. On a 0-1 count, Carnahan took an off-speed pitch to his back and put NC ahead.
“The thing I’m most proud of is our offense continued to battle when Lehman was in command,” Harmon said.
Harmon warmed up senior pitching ace Oye with the understanding that Richardson would be relieved if he allowed a hit in the seventh. But Harmon let matters be when Richardson allowed Bruscoe’s two-out triple to right.
“Once Brett had the two outs, and he still had pretty good command and velocity, it was his game to win or tie,” Harmon said.
Carnahan, who also made a good play on a tricky grounder to open the seventh, preserved the win. He came up with Roberg’s slow roller and beat him on a close play at first base.
“It took a pretty good exchange and throw to get (Roberg),” Harmon said.
Bret Riggin had an RBI single and Tyler Alvarado an RBI on a fielder’s choice during EV’s two-run second. The Knights added a pair in the fourth on Tyler Henderson’s steal of home and an error by Richardson.
In Shadle’s win, Gonzaga University recruit Darin Holcomb (3-2) scattered four singles and struck out seven while pitching a complete game. A two-out infield error extended Shadle’s second inning, leading to Alex Scarpelli’s RBI double and Holcomb’s RBI single, both to center field. Holcomb allowed no hits after the second inning, when four consecutive Wildcats reached base. Luke Raynor’s one-out RBI single in the second cut Shadle’s lead to 3-1, but Holcomb escaped a bases-loaded jam with a 4-6-3 double play. The Highlanders added runs on Josh Powell’s sacrifice fly in the sixth and pinch-hitter Billy Rigsby’s RBI single in the seventh.