From the third through eight innings, Lower Columbia College pitcher Jared Akin was in a zone.
The sophomore right-hander from Hillsboro surrendered three hits during the span to earn Most Valuable Player accolades as the Red Devils held off Yakima Valley 7-5 in the title game of the NWAC Baseball Championships on Monday at David Story Field.
The title is the second straight for LCC (36-7), which finished the season winning its last 15 games. The Red Devils have claimed the title in three of the last four years, and have a conference-record 13 championship crowns.
“Winning the championship last year and repeating is really tough to do,” LCC coach Eric Lane said. “It shows how strong the sophomores are and all of the hard work they’ve put in the last two season. There’s not a lot of Red Devils who can say they repeated, and for these guys to do that is special.”
The last team to win consecutive titles was Edmonds during the 2002 and ‘03 seasons. LCC won consecutive crowns in 1995, ‘96, and ‘97.
Things got a little dicey for the Devils in the ninth inning. A passed-ball third strike landed Yakima leadoff hitter and pinch-hitter Jashaun Simon at first off reliever Derek Downey, who then hit the next batter with a pitch. The usually reliable Downey then gave up a base hit to Tanner Parker, which loaded the bases.
Downey yielded to Justin Solt, who gave up an RBI single to Johnny Sage and a run-scoring sacrifice fly to Zach Inskeep before closing out the game with a pair of infield outs.
Yakima roughed up Akin for two runs in the first on four consecutive hits, including a double from Inskeep.
“Early on I wasn’t able to get my off-speed pitches over, so I was a one-pitch pitcher,” said Akin, who will play next season at Concordia University in Portland. “When I started getting two or three pitches over, I was missing barrels and the batters seemed to be a little more off-balance.”
The Yaks took a 3-0 lead in the second when they parlayed a hit, walk and hit batter into a run.
“My body was a little tired, but I relied on the mechanics which got me to college and where I am now,” Akin said. “I did what I did best by missing barrels, forcing weak contact, and not doing too much.”
While he regained command of his off-speed pitches, Akin retired 18 of the next 21 batters he faced before leaving after eight innings. After throwing 50 pitches in the first two innings, Akin needed only 76 through the next six frames. He allowed eight hits, struck out five, and walked two.
“We have trust in Jared, but every once in awhile he has an inning where he gives up a couple runs,” Lane said. “He finds a way to getting back to posting zeros to let our offense to get back in the game.”
The seemingly tense Red Devils had one hit in the first two innings off Yaks’ starter Matt Driver. In the third, they loosened up when DeShawn Johnson was hit by a pitch, Chase Hodkinson singled, and Kyle Sandstrom gained a bases-loaded walk.
JT Strickler hit a sacrifice fly which plated Johnson, Sam Trend-Beacom was hit by a pitch which reloaded the bases, and Ricky Muzzy added an RBI single which chased Driver for reliever Logan Chase. Noah Andrews greeted him with an RBI single, and Hunter Cook added an RBI single which gave the Devils’ a 5-3 advantage.
Five Yakima Valley pitchers combined to hit seven LCC batters, with Trend-Beacom and Muzzy getting hit twice apiece.
“Our energy was lacking a little in the first two innings when we got down 3-0,” Lane said. “We put together some good at-bats in the third inning, which got us back in the game.”
LCC added a run in the sixth on a towering home run from Trend-Beacom which landed on the left field party deck, and an insurance tally in the eighth when Srickler doubled and came home on a Yaks’ error.
“We have a good freshmen group along with a good system in place, so there’s no reason we can’t do it again,” Lane said. “For me, winning it the first time was a lot of hard work, but this group of sophomores we had were special.”
Lane was also quick to give praise to his current coaching staff of Ian Sanderson and Ryan Littlefield, along with former coaches Eddie Smith and Kurt Lupinski.
“Ian took over the pitchers this season, and pitching wins ballgames,” Lane said. “The job he did was amazing, and set the tone for us.”
The Devils finished with nine hits, with Trend-Beacom and Hunter Cook collecting two apiece. All-Tournament picks for LCC were middle infielders Cook and Muzzy, outfielders Sandstrom and Andrews, designated hitter Strickler, pitcher Yancy Bird, and relief pitcher Justin Solt.
Also named to the All-Tournament team were Yakima Valley infielders Bryce Beck and Tanner Parker, outfielders Cole McKenzie, Tyler Detloff, and pitcher Alec Gomez; Edmonds outfielder Guthrie Morrison and pitcher Will Smith; Spokane catcher Brayden Olson and pitcher Nick Flesher; and Lane utility player Bryce Mulcahy.
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