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East Valley earns tie for GNL baseball title with split

Half a loaf is better than none.

East Valley bounced back from a dismal first-game loss Friday to salvage a doubleheader split with visiting Clarkston and a piece of its first Great Northern League baseball title.

The Knights (13-5) wasted a six-run third inning in the opener and dropped a 10-6 decision. But two sophomores came up clutch in a 5-2 second-game victory.

The teams went into the day tied for first place and went home tied. But the Bantams are the No. 1 seed into the District 7 2A playoffs by virtue of two wins in three games against East Valley.

“I’m greedy, I wanted to win one more,” EV coach John Phelan said. “But I’m not displeased. We get a day off as well as they do.”

Six-team district begins with Tuesday loser-out games between the third- and sixth-place and fourth- and fifth-place teams. Winners move on to face the Knights and Bantams beginning Wednesday in the double-elimination portion for three regional berths.

The Knights led the opener 6-1, plating their runs in the third. Clarkston mistakes set the table for Joey Copeland’s RBI double and Matt Stewart’s two-run double. Alex Bowdish’s run-scoring single capped the big inning.

But sophomore pitcher Gage Burland melted down in the top of the fourth, walking four batters and hitting another. All scored in the game-tying frame. Clarkston added three more an inning later to put the game away.

“Thank goodness we’ve pitched well,” Clarkston coach Bruce Bensching said. “It seems like we’ve been playing from behind all year long. This is the second time we’ve come back from five runs down.”

Burland acquitted himself in the second game with the decisive hit while fellow sophomore J.T. Phelan pitched a gem.

Phelan allowed just three hits – none after the third inning – walked two, hit another and struck out six.

The Knights broke a 1-1 tie with a four-run fourth. With two outs, Clarkston pitchers issued a walk and hit two batters. Burland cleared the bases with a triple to right-center and scored on Phelan’s line-drive single between third base and shortstop.

“I thought (Burland’s) was going to be a home run,” John Phelan said. “But that was a clutch hit. It got us the second seed, which we needed.”