If you would've polled many of the Lower Columbia College baseball faithful prior to Sunday's game with Bellevue, you'd have found the Bulldogs from the Seattle suburb to be heavily favored.
In fact, the LCC coaches didn't really give their team much of a chance against the high-powered Bulldogs' offense.
But to borrow the catch phrase of relief pitcher Tug McGraw and the 1973 New York Mets, "You Gotta Believe."
LCC hung four runs on the Bulldogs in the first inning and responded with solo tallies in the third and eighth innings to claim a 6-5 victory in the NWAACC baseball championships on Sunday at David Story Field.
"It was really important we believed we could win even when they (the Bulldogs) came back," LCC coach Kelly Smith said. "We're the Little Train That Could, and I told the guys this was a game they'd probably remember for a lot of years."
The defending champion Red Devils (25-11) meet Mount Hood (29-12) in the penultimate game of the double-elimination tournament at 11:05 a.m. Monday. The winner moves on to face Bellevue (36-14) in the championship game at 2:35 p.m.
In Sunday's other contests, Bellevue shut out Lane 9-0 in the battle of tournament undefeated teams, and Mount Hood eliminated Lane 2-1.
Prior to the LCC-Bellevue game, longtime athletic secretary Carol Carlson and Red Devils' pitching coach Rob Hippi were recognized for their contributions to LCC athletics. Both are retiring later this spring.
Bellevue touched LCC starter Leko Galusha for two runs on three hits, a walk and a hit batter in the top of the first inning, but the underdog Devils countered with four runs in the bottom of the inning. LCC roughed up Bellevue starter Frank Tassara for four hits, including an RBI double from Brent Graham and a two-run double by Jake Schrader.
"We could've rolled over after trailing 2-0 but we threw a 4-spot at them in the bottom of the first," Smith said. "When we get rolling we burst with confidence. The last time we played Bellevue (3-0 loss on Saturday) we had no confidence because we were stuffed."
The Devils stretched their lead to 5-2 in the third inning when Schrader crushed a 2-2 offering from Tassara into the LCC bullpen for a solo homer. Schrader's two hits (double, home run) resulted in three RBIs.
"Jake hasn't hit right-handed in awhile since his knee surgery early this season," Smith said. "He smoked a ball to right field for a double, then belted a home run. I think he might be getting back into form."
Bellevue's Emmett Niland slapped a one-out triple in the fourth inning and later came home on a wild pitch from Galusha, and the Bulldogs added a solo tally in the sixth to trail 5-4.
Tyler Cox coaxed a leadoff walk from Galusha in the sixth, and the Devils' freshman hurler was chased moments later when he surrendered a base hit to Jerad Casper. Garrett Tygerson relieved Galusha, and gave up an RBI single to designated hitter Zach Aaker.
Bellevue tied the game at 5-5 in the seventh when Tyler Baumgartner crushed a 2-2 pitch from Tygerson over the right field fence. The Devils' first bid at regaining the lead came in the seventh when Bailey Graham and Sam Williams milked back-to-back walks, but both were stranded two outs later.
In the eighth, LCC scratched out the game-winning run when McQuown singled, stole second, and scored on an infield hit by Tinnell which the Bulldogs played into an error. Tinnell's infield bounder went to the left of the pitcher's mound, and the relay throw to first was bobbled by Bulldogs' first-sacker Cox. McQuown, who was rounding third on the Tinnell hit, noticed the botched play and alertly scampered home.
The Bulldogs opened the ninth with a base hit from Baumgartner off Tygerson, who was lifted for Red Devils' hurler Jeff Ames. Baumgartner was caught attempting to steal second moments later, and Ames whiffed two of the next three batters he faced to end the Bellevue threat.
"These guys manned up and competed because it's been my worry all season if they could compete," Smith said. "They don't get enough credit to be here doing what they're doing, and they had a fun time playing at the top of their ability. It's a feather in their caps to beat one of the best teams I've seen in a long time."
McQuown led the Devils with three hits, with Tinnell adding a pair of singles.