YAKIMA — The greatest playoff run in R.A. Long baseball history fell one win short of the ultimate glory.
Aided by a freak hop at first base — but powered mainly by a parade of no-doubt line drives — W.F. West erupted for a five-run rally with two outs in the bottom of the third inning to break open the Class 2A state title game at Yakima County Stadium here Saturday.
From there, the top-ranked Bearcats leaned on phenomenal defense and the power pitching of sophomore Mitch Gueller to hold off the Lumberjacks 8-1 and claim their first state baseball championship.
R.A. Long, playing in the first title game in school history, settled for second place.
"Even though we made history, we didn't want to settle for second," said Jacks senior Levi Welch. "I wish we could have taken it all."
R.A. Long (20-6) was denied by a Bearcats squad that clicked on all cylinders, with a lineup full of mashers, a pitcher in full command and a defense loaded with next-level talent. W.F. West pounded out 10 hits against a trio of Jacks pitchers, including three extra-base knocks that gouged the gaps or grazed the outfield walls, and one towering, solo home run by Robert Pehl that made it 1-0 in the first inning.
Welch was the final pitcher employed by RAL head coach Jason Castro and had the most success, relatively speaking, of the trio who toed the rubber.
He called W.F. West "the best lineup I've ever faced."
"They just crush the ball, one through nine," Welch added. "They have six kids who have committed to Division I schools. It's pretty hard to get through their lineup."
One of those signees is junior shortstop Erik Forgione, who initiated inning-ending plays on ground balls in the fourth and, most significantly, the sixth inning. He started a 6-4-3 double play to kill the Jacks' last, best scoring chance in the top of the sixth, ranging deep into the hole behind third base to snag Mike Puvogel's grounder and then starting the twin-killer with a crisp throw to Yasser Kahn at second.
If Puvogel's ball had squirted through, RAL would have had two runners on with one out, down 7-1.
Instead, they were back on defense.
"We said throughout the playoffs that someone was going to have to beat us," Castro said. "We didn't lose this. They won it. Their shortstop seemed to snuff out every rally."
The rallies came few and far between against Gueller, who paired a darting curveball with a mid-80s fastball to check the Jacks on four hits. R.A. Long finally nicked him for a run in the top of the sixth, when senior Boston Peterson belted a double off the top of the wall in right-center and scored on a two-out error.
Forgione's highlight-caliber double play sequence followed.
"Mitch blew my mind tonight," said Forgione. "He threw the best game of his life at the best possible time."
The Bearcats' back-breaking rally in the third had humble beginnings. RAL starter Jake Look was in a groove and had retired six consecutive batters, including the first two of the inning. But he walked Colton Schoelkopf on five pitches, then surrendered a double to Pehl that scored Schoelkopf and made it 2-0.
The one truly unlucky break of the game followed for the Jacks, with catastrophic results. Cleanup hitter Tyler McCarty hit a brisk but harmless-looking roller directly at Puvogel, the RAL first baseman.
When it reached the infield cut, it sprouted wings.
"Puvogel had that ball played perfectly," Castro said. "We should have been out of the inning."
Instead, the ball hit the lip of the grass and hopped over Puvogel's head - a good six feet over - into right field for a single. Pehl scored, and a hit, two walks, an error and another walk ushered three more runs across for the Bearcats.
"At this stage, you make your own luck," said Castro. "My hat is off to W.F. West."
The Bearcats used three singles in the fourth inning to score again and take a 7-0 lead, and made it 8-1 in the sixth when Gueller and Brennan Casteel doubled back-to-back.
"This lineup can just go off at any point, no matter who is in it," Forgione said. "We're like a freight train. Once we get rolling, it's hard to stop us."
R.A. Long will graduate 10 players from the most successful team in its history.
Ten trail-blazers, Castro noted.
"We were never on anyone's radar," he said. "There wasn't a single game in the playoffs where an ump didn't ask me, ‘Where is R.A. Long? Who is R.A. Long?' These kids put R.A. Long on the map."