Just when it seemed the Inland Empire League baseball race couldn’t get any tighter, it did.
Lewiston paid a visit to Lake City for an IEL doubleheader Tuesday and used timely hitting to get the sweep it needed to pull a few percentage points behind the Timberwolves atop the league.
In the opener, first baseman Chris Butler keyed a six-run sixth with a three-run homer and Rob Roth tossed a complete-game five-hitter, recording 10 strikeouts, and the Bengals (11-5, 8-3 IEL) held on for a 7-5 victory.
In the nightcap, Lewiston again had a big sixth, breaking up a 2-all tie with three runs and again holding off a late charge to hang a 5-3 loss on Lake City (12-3, 7-2).
Bengals coach Tom Grunenfelder said his team is finally starting to gel and came north knowing they needed to play well.
“I just like the heart of our guys right now,” said Grunenfelder, also acknowledging the importance of staying in the race for the No. 1 seed for regionals. “This isn’t the most talented group I’ve ever had, but they sure play hard.
“We came up here today to try and get a sweep – we knew that would be an awful, awful difficult task, but I am so proud of these guys to beat a quality ballclub like Lake City.”
The Timberwolves, who apparently needed to have their backs to the wall before they turned on the offense, put the tying run on second base in the seventh inning of both games.
But with one out and the bases juiced in the opener, Roth erased Timberwolves catcher Travis Harmon on a questionable called third strike and followed it up with another strikeout to seal the deal.
In Game 2, Butler again did most of the damage, stepping to the plate with the bases loaded and delivering a two-run single to left.
After a quiet sixth, LC third baseman Tom Barlow got things started with a hard one-out grounder up the middle. After a pair of walks to Brady Capaul and Joe Scoggin, Bengals reliever Nick Masters coaxed Harmon into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.
Lake City coach Cory Bridges lamented his team’s inability to deliver in the clutch.
“We didn’t get hits when we had guys in scoring position, and they did,” said Bridges, whose team tasted its first IEL loss and its first loss to Lewiston since two seasons ago. “We had kids up that I wanted up in that situation and they didn’t perform – their kids performed, ours didn’t.
“Any time you can get the tying run on second base in both games, you feel fortunate, but we piddled away too many innings.”
Bridges also gave credit to speedy Lewiston left-fielder Noah McKay’s superlative play in the field.
“He made some great plays out there,” Bridges said of McKay, who killed LC rallies with long-ranging catches near the fence in the third and fourth innings of the nightcap. “He saved a lot of runs for them in the first game and the second game.”
Lake City has nine IEL games remaining, including a doubleheader at Lewiston. The Bengals have seven more league contests on their schedule, including a doubleheader visit from Coeur d’Alene, which is still in the hunt with three league losses.
Also in the IEL, Travis Georgius went 3 for 3 with four RBIs and Mike Estrada hit a three-run home run to spark Coeur d’Alene (11-4, 5-3) to a 12-3 victory over visiting Lakeland (1-7, 1-5).
•In Intermountain League action, Priest River pitcher Casey DeLand knocked in three runs to improve his record to 7-0 on the season and Joey Hoepfer drove in the go-ahead run with a solo homer in the bottom of the fifth as the Spartans (12-1, 7-0) defeated the visiting Kellogg Wildcats (3-8, 1-7) 6-4.
Mallory Twidt had Lakeland’s only hit against Coeur d’Alene’s Jenna Delong, but it came during a three-run burst in the top of the third inning and the Hawks (5-7, 4-5) held on for a 3-2 Inland Empire League road win over the Vikings (11-5, 5-3). … Stephanie Saadoun fired a two-hitter, striking out nine, as the Lake City Timberwolves (13-2, 9-0) romped to a 10-1 victory and a doubleheader sweep over the visiting Lewiston Bengals (8-6, 7-5). Kellee Jost allowed three hits and struck out nine as the T-Wolves breezed to a 10-0 win in the opener. LC’s Kelli Bridges went 4 for 4.
•In Intermountain League play, the visiting Kellogg Wildcats (4-11, 3-5) scored six runs in the top of the seventh, but fell a run short in a 9-8 loss to the Priest River Spartans (6-10, 3-4).
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