CHEHALIS — By the time R.A. Long exited Bearcat Stadium on Saturday, the once-foreboding drizzle that threatened postponement of the opening weekend of the regional baseball playoffs had been replaced by radiant, warm beams.
Not beams of sunshine, although there were glimpses of the golden orb in the skies above.
No, these beams were the wide, toothy smiles of the Lumberjacks, who were down to their last pitch against Ellensburg before junior Tanner Chamberlain saved the weekend with a three-run homer. These beams were the glowing pride of head coach Jason Castro, who marveled over the pitching performance of senior Tyler Weaver, who seemed to be the only pitcher on either team able to locate the strike zone in the nightcap against Clarkston.
R.A. Long advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals in Yakima after rallying past Ellensburg 9-8 in the opener and shutting down Clarkston 7-3 in the nightcap. The Jacks will face Selah in at 7 p.m. Friday at County Stadium, while W.F. West faces Archbishop Murphy in the other semifinal at 4 p.m.
"I'm speechless and I'm exhausted," Castro said. "I couldn't be more excited or proud of our team."
And why not? The Jacks advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 1996. And they did it with a fashion that typified the team's never-say-die attitude.
In the victory over Ellensburg, Chamberlain's second home run of the game came with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. The junior third baseman gave the Jacks a 9-7 lead, driving an 0-2 pitch over the left-field fence off Ellensburg reliever Davis Engel for a three-run homer.
"What do you say about Tanner Chamberlain?" Castro asked. "It was his night. We hit .344 as a team. We hit well one through nine. If you look at our lineup, there's no one person who stands out. But my, what a big performance he had tonight."
R.A. Long survived a five-run, second-inning outburst by the Bulldogs and overcame a 7-1 deficit to win the game.
The Jacks trailed 7-4 entering the final inning, but pulled within 7-6 on a two-run blast by Jake Look. Look's shot over the center-field wall scored Levi Welch, who started the comeback with a one-out double.
Look's homer also chased Ellensburg starter D.J. Smith, who had recorded 10 strikeouts in the game. Engel promptly got Austin Wegdahl to ground out to third base. With no one on base, it looked grim for R.A. Long.
But Engel's early success may have come too quickly. He plunked Jacks cleanup hitter Boston Peterson and walked Jesse Gomez on five pitches. That set the stage for Chamberlain's heroics.
"That team is hot," Ellensburg coach Todd Gibson said. "They were on the ropes. But take nothing away from them. I have never been part of a comeback like that where the other team just drove the long ball. Those balls were hit hard."
The Bulldogs didn't quit. John Ellersick reached first on a soft grounder up the middle that Wegdahl mishandled. Michael McKneight singled to put runners at first and second, chasing Welch who pitched two innings of scoreless relief.
Look took the mound and struck out Joel Greear on a 65-mph change-up. Michael McKinney, pinch-running for McKneight was thrown out at second on a fielder's choice by shortstop Wegdahl. Ellersick came home on a single by Engel, which left runners at the corners with two outs.
Taylor Young slapped a bouncer up the middle. Wegdahl stretched out to snare the ball, but instead deflected it right into the hands of approaching second baseman Welch. He stepped on second to force out Engel, and the Jacks remained alive.
"Levi was in the right place at the right time," Castro said. "You've got to be good but you also have to be lucky, and we got lucky on that one."
The Bulldogs had 10-runned their opponents in four of their past five games, but managed just one run — unearned at that — after the fourth inning.
"We ran into the wrong team at the wrong time," Gibson said. "Maybe we're a victim of our own success. But you can't take anything away from R.A. Long. I've never seen a team hit the long ball like that. I hope they win it all. They're playing really well."
Welch homered for the Jacks' first run in the top of the third, and Zac Williams scored on a single by Look in the fifth. The Jacks continued to chip away in the sixth inning, as Chamberlain's two-run blast to right-center plated Gomez.
Chamberlain finished the game 3-for-4 with two homers, a double and five RBIs.
"I felt confident in my swing," Chamberlain said. "Everything felt smooth. Our team always shows heart, and I'm really proud of how we battled."
R.A. Long 7, Clarkston 3
The Jacks' offensive momentum carried over to the first inning. Welch drew a leadoff walk and scored on Wegdahl's grounder to second. Gomez, Chamberlain and Mike Puvogel added consecutive RBI doubles, and the Jacks led 4-0 in the middle of the first.
After a 20-minute rain delay, Welch took the mound and the Bantams seemed to settle down. Clarkston added two runs in the first and pulled within 4-3 on Ryan Tacke's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third. Welch and reliever Devan Richards compounded the Jacks' problems, struggling to find control of a wet ball and a muddy mound. The two combined for five walks and a hit batter over three innings.
"Whatever momentum we had, the rain killed it," Castro said. "It really affected our pitchers."
Until Weaver stepped in.
The senior right-hander took over for Richards with two outs in the third. He retired the first seven batters he faced before plunking Tacke to open the sixth. Instead of panicking, Weaver came back with a pair of strikeouts, yielded a walk to Nick Rimmelspacher, then forced Colby Hansen to hit into an inning-ending groundout to Gomez at third.
"I just did what I had to do to help the team win," Weaver said. "I just tried to enjoy the ride and throw strikes. I felt confident in my selection, and I just knew I could do it."
Castro expressed his gratitude.
"I just needed someone to get us to the seventh inning," he said. "Tyler has been down on the depth chart and has been mostly a role player all season. But today, he stepped up huge. It just proves that baseball is a team game, and you had better be ready when you get your opportunity."
Meanwhile, the R.A. Long offense chipped in with some insurance runs. Peterson singled and came home when Bantams catcher Mickey Smith couldn't handle a throw from shortstop Brady Arnone. Puvogel added an RBI single, plating Gomez for a 6-3 lead. Welch finished the scoring, taking first on an error, then scoring on Wegdahl's RBI double.
Castro praised Puvogel, who didn't have a hit in any of the Jacks' three district playoff games. Puvogel finished the nightcap 3-for-4 with a double and a pair of RBIs.
"He's a streaky hitter and he got hot tonight," he said. "We have a lot of unsung players on this team. You really couldn't script it any better."