After claiming his third NWAACC baseball title in the last five seasons, Bellevue coach Mark Yoshino gave Lower Columbia College high praise in front of a near-packed house at David Story Field.
Yoshino admitted he didn't want to face the Red Devils in the title game of the NWAACC baseball championships on Monday.
"I would've rather played Mount Hood," Yoshino said. "Lower Columbia is pesky and hard to control."
Yoshino's Bulldogs plated all of their runs in the initial three innings as Bellevue outlasted the Red Devils 5-3 in the tournament title game. LCC (36-12) had to beat Mount Hood 7-3 in the Saturday morning matchup to advance to its 12th title game in 17 seasons under coach Kelly Smith.
"We gave them (the Bulldogs) a game," Smith said. "They didn't want to play us because we're pesky. We'll always be that way. The key word for us this season was relentless. Whether we were up or down, we were relentless."
Bellevue (37-14) claimed its fifth NWAACC baseball crown. The Bulldogs also won in 1973, '79, 2007 and '09 along with four second-place finishes in that span. The runner-up placing was the seventh for Smith, who has also claimed titles from 1995-97, 2005 and last year.
"We've had a lot of seconds, and you can refer to me as Bud Levy," Smith cracked after the game, referring to former NFL coaches Bud Grant and Marv Levy, who had many second-place Super Bowl finishes. "Twelve championship games is the Red Devil way with guts, guile and experience. We were overmatched physically, but I wouldn't sub one of their guys for ours."
LCC parlayed base hits from Ben McQuown and Eric Tinnell into a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but the Bulldogs countered with two hits of their own in the bottom of the first for a 1-1 deadlock.
McQuown had three of the Devils' 10 hits, with Tinnell adding a pair.
"We gave it all we had and I wouldn't change anything for the world," McQuown said. "No one thought we would've been here, but we stuck together and made it happen. I thought we should've won the game, but we went down competing."
A two-run homer from Bellevue's Jerad Casper gave it a 3-1 lead in the second, and the Bulldogs converted a Tyler Baumgartner double and singles from Kyle Conwell and Tyler Cox into a 5-1 advantage in the third.
The Devils bounced back with a solo homer from Sam Williams in the fourth and an RBI single from Tinnell in the fifth, but were unable to further close the scoring gap. LCC left five baserunners stranded in the last four innings, including three in scoring position.
"We had opportunities but they came up with big plays," Smith said. "This was satisfying because we got here with a team which wasn't a big machine like we've had in the past, but I'm almost as proud of this team as any one I've had."
LCC's best scoring opportunities came in the seventh and ninth innings. In the seventh, Bret Bitow and McQuown laced back-to-back, one-out singles, but McQuown was erased at second when Spencer Hannah hit into a fielder's choice. Tinnell followed with a ground out to end the threat.
In the ninth, Bitow laced a one-out double to the right-center field gap, and McQuown was hit by a pitch from Bellevue starter Kyle Swannick. Bellevue coach Yoshino lifted Swannick for Andrew Groves, who coaxed Garrett Tygerson and Tinnell into left field fly-outs to end the game.
"The last inning for me was heartbreaking because I wanted to finish the game," Swannick said. "I was running on nerves and adrenaline, and I'm glad my team pulled it out."
Swannick scattered 10 hits and struck out three hitters for the victory.
"All of my pitches worked well," the sophomore from Renton said. "My arm was a little tired with three days rest, but I tried to keep us in it and get the win."
Stuart Fewel, who was pitching on a day's rest after facing Bellevue on Saturday, scattered seven hits through four innings. Doug Christie gave 3 1/3 innings of two-hit relief with four strikeouts, and Braydon Poole made his tournament debut with 2/3 of an inning of hitless relief.
"I'm really proud of this team because we didn't think they could achieve this much," said LCC pitching coach Rob Hippi, who retired from college coaching at the end of the game. "It's a great way to go out."
Bitow finished with three hits, including a double.
"We weren't out of a game all season, with is a testament to the backbone of this team," Smith added. "They're all gamers, and that's the biggest compliment I can give them."
Lower Columbia 7, Mount Hood 3
A six-run fourth inning by the Red Devils broke a 1-1 tie and sent the Southern Division champion Saints home to Gresham, Ore.
"The big inning really helped," Smith said. "We were opportunistic and ran their starter (Isaac Henslee). Six runs with Jeff (Ames, LCC starter) pitching is a nice cushion."
Ames, who gave the Devils eight innings of work and 15 strikeouts in Thursday's opener and an inning of relief on Sunday, scattered five hits and struck out five through six innings against the Saints. Aaron Huson relieved Ames for the final three innings, scattering three hits and notching a strikeout.
"Jeff's velo (velocity) was down and his stuff wasn't the best, but he really gutted it out for six innings," Smith said. "Huson came out of the bullpen and slow-balled them to death."
Ames threw 56 of his 84 pitches for strikes, and Huson tossed 25 strikes in his 39 pitches.
LCC sent a dozen players to the plate in the fourth inning, with half of them coming around to score. Six Red Devils had base hits, including a two-run single by Robbie Groschell, RBI singles by McQuown and Bailey Graham, and an RBI sacrifice fly from Spencer Hannah.
"The guys were feeling pretty good after the big fourth inning," Smith said. "The coaching staff and myself were a little antsy because the game's never over until the final out."
After the Devils' offensive explosion, Mount Hood managed five hits through the last five innings, including a one-out solo homer by Jeremy Burright in the sixth.
"We're advancing to another championship game which is hard to do," Smith said. "This is an overachievement for us after all that has happened this season. It's all gravy from here on out."
Brent Graham had three of LCC's nine hits, with McQuown adding a pair.
Nine Bulldogs, five Red Devils earn All-Tournament honors
Bellevue second baseman Tyler Baumgartner earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors as eight other Bulldogs and five Lower Columbia College players were named to the NWAACC Baseball All-Tournament team.
Other Bellevue players earning All-Tournament honors were infielders Jerad Casper and Cory Urquhart, outfielders Andy Smith and Kyle Conwell, utility player Tyler Cox, and pitchers Kyle Swannack, Matt Cooper and Adrian Sampson.
LCC players named to the team were catcher Bailey Graham, shortstop Brent Graham, outfielder Ben McQuown, designated hitter Sam Williams and pitcher Jeff Ames. Rounding out the team were Mount Hood infielder Alex Foulon and pitcher Matt Pechman, Lane outfielder Jimmy Sanchez and reliever Zach Kayser, and Columbia Basin infielder John Reilly.